MASSILLON – It was a plan that started years before Jay Boodheshwar became the city’s parks department director.
In the mid-1990s, voters agreed to increase the city income tax with the new revenue dedicated to improving city parks, adding trails and eventually building a recreation center.
Seven years later, on June 12, 2002, the promise to open a center was fulfilled.
It might be 20 years ago, but Boodheshwar remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I remember working together with staff, City Council, the mayor (Frank Cicchinelli) and other city departments to get ready for the ribbon cutting,” he said. “I still remember it very fondly standing there with the mayor and council. I remember the speeches. It was a really special moment.”
On June 24, the city will celebrate the 20th anniversary with a day of events and an open house at the facility, 505 Erie St. N. Residents are invited for free hot dogs and drinks from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m., followed by an open house and family activities from 3 to 8 p.m.
The Up in Smoke BBQ food truck will be on-site from 5 to 8 p.m. and “Encanto” will be shown on the lawn at 8:45 p.m. Free popcorn will be served.
Massillon Rec Center offerings include basketball, swimming fitness room and running track
Boodheshwar, who left the city in 2006 and headed south to Florida, came into the job in Massillon in late 2000.
A lot of things had already been done when Boodheshwar stepped in.
The tax dollars approved by taxpayers years early had already paid for the new Community Park along Finefrock Road SW.
“A lot of things had already been done but I got to finish up the design for the Rec Center and then build the center,” he recalled. “That was the highest profile project on that list.”
The $9.5 million center was paid for with the 0.3% additional income tax.
The project was like a start-up company, Boodheshwar explained, noting he was starting from scratch. He had to build a team and create policies to get the facility up and running.
Ron Pribich, a former member of the Parks and Rec Board that helped bring the facility to fruition, said there was an excitement surrounding the new center.
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Before the facility opened, nearly 1,400 people had signed up for a membership, just 100 people shy of the 1,500 goal. At least 15% of the memberships were from nonresidents, officials said when the facility opened.
“We had people coming down while it was constructed to check it out all the time,” Pribich recalled. “It’s one of the best things to have happened to Massillon in the last 50 years.”
The more than 60,000-square-foot building features gyms; a swimming area, including water slides, a lazy river and a kiddie play area; weight and fitness rooms; a running track; and other amenities.
There are two full-size basketball courts that can be split into four courts and set up for volleyball and pickleball. They play host to a number of tournaments and leagues throughout the year.
The facility also offers meeting and party rooms.
Shortly after the facility opened, officials realized they had already outgrown the space and with the help of an Aultman Health Foundation grant, they were able to add on the weight and fitness rooms.
“Within a year and half, we were jammed packed,” Boodheshwar said.
Rec Center is great asset to Massillon community
The excitement around the Rec Center continues two decades later.
“I think everyone enjoys the Rec Center that utilizes it,” Mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry said. “Whether it’s for exercise, weight training, or for a party or kids’ sports, it’s a great asset to the Massillon community and it’s affordable.”
Today, the Rec Center boasts about 2,200 members and about 10,000 visits a month, said Steve Pedro, director of parks and recreation.
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The number of members fluctuates throughout the years and is down slightly, but Pedro said there are a number of gyms in town that weren’t around when the facility opened.
Non-residents are invited to join the Rec Center and there are a number of membership plans and different payment levels for taxpayers, non-residents, seniors and veterans, Pedro added.
The facility has a great following of families and seniors who take advantage of the many programs. From swim classes to fitness classes to a game of pickleball, Pedro said they try to offer what members are asking for.
Many organizations use the facilities for special events such as after-prom or for parties and meetings.
“I think it’s made a great addition to the city,” he said. “It’s giving families a place to go to enjoy fitness and fun activities.”
Fitness equipment and classes are updated regularly.
The kiddie pool splash zone remains closed as they continue to repair the space. It has been closed for more than a year. Work began in November to repair a leak under the splash zone. Supply chain delays and other issues have set the project back.
Pedro said the majority of work is complete. As soon as they get final approvals and a few small things addressed, the splash zone will open.
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“As soon as it happens I am going to put a neon sign out on the front (of the building),” Pedro joked. “It’s in high demand. It’s just taking a lot longer to get done.”
Looking to the future, Pedro said he has lots of ideas, but many of those take funding.
“My goal is to make sure we are progressing and giving people what they want and what they need to better themselves,” he added.
As for Boodheshwar, the facility is his legacy.
“I’m proud that it’s still serving the purpose that it was intended for bringing families, people to gather in a social environment and also an environment of exercise,” he said. “It’s a community center. It’s where the community goes and it’s really a neat thing.”
To learn more about the Rec Center, https://www.massillonparks.com/.
Reach Amy at 330-775-1135 or [email protected]
On Twitter: @aknappINDE
The Massillon Rec Center, 505 Erie Ave. N, will mark its 20th anniversary June 24. Here’s how the facility is celebrating:
- 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Free hot dogs and drinks
- 3 to 8 p.m.: Open house and family activities
- 5 to 7 p.m.: Q92 broadcast with prizes
- 5 to 8 p.m.: Up in Smoke BBQ food truck
- 8 to 11 p.m.: Free outdoor movie “Encanto” and popcorn