By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
The city of Bessemer will open the doors of its first recreation center for all residents on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
The city had a rec center 130 years ago, but city officials say that facility was segregated.
“The city has never had a facility of this nature to house programs for our youth and seniors,” said Toraine Norris, assistant to Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley. “This will also be a place where Bessemer residents can go and exercise and do the things necessary to promote better health.
“About 25 percent of our residents live in poverty and can’t afford gym memberships,” Norris said. “About 41 percent of our residents are diagnosed as obese and another 22 percent of adults in Bessemer battle with diabetes; so there are health benefits in having a place like this for our residents.”
Formerly the site of Roosevelt Park and Davis Middle School, the city purchased the site in 2013 and began construction.
The center will host events such as youth sports; baseball, softball and basketball. It will also feature an indoor pool with a kiddie slide, an indoor walking track, fitness and workout areas, activity rooms and a collegiate-sized gymnasium.
The outdoor park features two baseball fields, a basketball court, tennis courts, a children’s playground, a walking trail, a pavilion, amphitheater and concession stands and restrooms.
“We are looking forward to working with the community and providing the best recreation programs for our community,” Alton Woodard, director of the recreation center, said. “This is an opportunity for the residents to enjoy a beautiful facility that will meet the recreational needs of this community.”
Gulley hopes the center can attract families and young people to the area.
“We have plans on the table to turn the old railroad line on the other side of 14th Street into a walking trail which will link back to the Recreation Center and park via a pedestrian bridge,” Norris said. “We’ve also seen what happened economically in Birmingham with the construction of Railroad Park … we believe this will have some of the same benefits in this general area and in downtown Bessemer due to the Recreation Center being located along a busy, well-traveled highway.”
At least 1,000 people showed up this summer for a ribbon-cutting and preview of the facility. The city also hopes to move its annual July 4th Celebration to the park next year. Work will continue toward renovating the park area until at least October, according to the mayor’s office and the entire project should be completed by November.