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The Villages
Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Villagers rave about amenities offered at new First Responders Recreation Center

Hundreds of happy Villagers streamed in and out of the new First Responders Recreation Center during its first day of operation Wednesday.

Villagers finally got their first look at the new First Responders Recreation Center on Wednesday, and everybody liked what they saw.

Following an opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting event, hundreds of residents toured and sampled the activities at the new center. The facility was designed as a tribute to first responders – including law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics/EMTs and other heroes – and is decorated with memorabilia donated by more than 100 former first responders who live in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.

Stan Czenis, of the Village of Summerhilld plays his first-ever video game — Centipede — with his daughter, Kathy Gaskill, on opening day of the First Responders Recreation Center. The new center is the first to offer classic arcade games for Villagers and their guests to enjoy.

“I think it’s a wonderful tribute, especially at a time when law enforcement is maybe under-appreciated,” said Michael Powers, a retired NYPD detective who lives in the Village of Briar Meadow. “It’s a beautiful facility – very well done. I think it’s one of the nicest rec centers in The Villages, right up there with the Eisenhower.”

The Eisenhower Recreation Center, which opened in 2013 near Brownwood, is dedicated to military heroes.

Deane Chickering, of the Village of Bonnybrook, waits for the serve at the new First Responders Recreation Center on Wednesday. Chickering was playing on his 232nd pickleball court in The Villages as part of a quest he started in 2013.

John DeAngelo, retired deputy fire chief from Peabody, Mass., who lives in the Village of Calumet Grove, had a chance to see the patch he donated on display in the firefighters room. In addition to enjoying the tribute, he’s glad to see something new on the north side of The Villages.

“It seems like a lot of the focus has been on building to the south, so it’s nice to know we’re not forgotten up here,” he said.

The new First Responders Recreation Center has a resort-style family pool.

The process of building the center started in 2018, when the Amenity Authority Committee purchased the 19-acre property from the First Baptist Church of The Villages.

Phyllis Moore, of the Village of County Club Hills, tries croquet for the very first time with coaching from Pam Bauer, a Village of Chatham resident and member of The Villages Croquet Club.

The existing building was renovated and expanded to include a multipurpose room, arts and crafts room with a kiln, game room, card room and kitchen. Outdoor amenities include several not previously available north of County Road 466, such as an 18-hole putt-and-play golf course, a resort-style family pool, a fire pit and platform tennis, along with a lawn bowling/croquet green and courts for pickleball, basketball, sand volleyball and beach tennis.

Enjoying a game of corn hole on opening day of the First Responders Recreation Center are Dave Rinehold (left), of the Village of Bradford, and Gary Grenier, of the Village of Cason Hammock.

The total cost of the project, including the acquisition of the property, was $7.175 million, and AAC members are proud the center came in on time and on budget.

Julie Bradley, of the Village of Hemingway, lines up her shot at the shuffleboard table on opening day at the new First Responders Recreation Center.

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