CONWAY — After eight weeks of summer recreation programs in the Kennett Middle School building in Conway Village, Conway Parks and Recreation Director Johnny Eastman said the new location feels like home.
“It really does,” Eastman said last week as the summer session was wrapping up. “We’re still not totally settled in yet, but it does feel like home and maybe more so when we get into the fall and are not in such a rush. I think it’s a great fit.”
Eastman and his full-time rec staff of Michael Lane, Todd Gallagher, Robby Moody and Lynore Wagner, along with 14 summer counselors provided programs for an average of 145-160 from Albany and Conway children aged 6-14 over the eight-week program.
“It was a really good summer,” Eastman said. “The hardest thing was the full-time staff, like the seasonal staff and the kids, had to learn where everything was together. From that standpoint, it was like we went to camp, too.”
Summer counselors were Maya Bernier, Victoria Burns, Makayla Cooper, Brandon DiLucchio, Cain Drouin, Casey Leavitt, Colby Livingston, Mackenzie Murphy, Abby Olds, Arielle Rivard, Ethan Robitallie, Rachel Samia, Rebecca Schiller and Danielle Solomon.
Last year, Conway voters approved moving the rec center to the unused portion of the middle school and spending $700,000 on renovations, including restoring an old gym built in the 1930s.
They scrambled to move into its new digs in mid-June, with less than a week to transition between the June 19 end of school and the June 24 start of the summer program. The gym floor wasn’t quite ready for opening day and alarm and computer systems were still being installed, but it looked like fun business as usual to the campers.
“(SAU 9 Superintendent) Kevin Richard and school employees have been great to us,” Eastman said. “Our gym wasn’t ready for the first two weeks but they let us use the Seidensteucker Gymnasium, it worked out great. I can’t say enough about Andy Grigel (building and grounds coordinator for the Conway School District) and his people. Mary-Anne Lane (administrative assistant for building and grounds) helped us so much behind the scenes. Everyone was great, we’re super thankful.”
At a $1-per-year lease, the department takes over roughly 22,000 square feet, or 13 percent of the 173,722-square-foot school building, in a section that was mothballed after Kennett High School moved to its new building 12 years ago.
At the Conway School Board’s meeting on Aug. 12, Richard called spoke Conway Rec excellent neighbors.
“It’s great to see the resources in use. It’s been great to have them on campus,” he said.
Richard said there are a couple of new additions to the campus, courtesy of the Conway Rec, including lighted poles on the ball field at Conway Elementary School after the towers and lights were relocated from Dick O’Brien Field in Center Conway three weeks ago.
“We have to get some praise to (Conway Director of Public Works) Paul (DegliAngeli) and (Conway Town Manager) Tom Holmes and all the town folks that are working on the parking lot (behind Conway Elementary),” Richard said. “They’ve brought in a lot of fill and taken out the old paving. They’re scheduled this weekend to be doing the paving out there and lining it. It’ll be safer for buses and drop-offs. It’s been a really positive, positive relationship.”
Eastman praised DW Electrical Contractors for the work on the lights, relocating them, replacing bulbs and conduits wiring the new system.
“Everything should be hooked up within the next few weeks,” he said. “Donny Whitelaw has been great to work with. Thanks to a grant the Friends of Rec was able to get from the Ham Charitable Foundation we were able to move the lights and put in new conduit.
Once the gym was able to be used, there was a surprise on the first day, the court was officially given a name, The Marshall Gymnasium, much to the surprise of Margaret and Sut Marshall, who pledged $350,000 to the renovation.
“We had no idea, absolutely no idea,” Sut Marshall said.
Eastman said he met this spring with Holmes, who agreed that the gym should be named after the Marshalls.
“We felt it was important that they are recognized,” Eastman said. “They are very, very humble people. I wanted to see the Marshall name stay relevant long after we’re gone. It’s not about giving credit, it’s about being an example to the community and giving back when you can.”
The Marshalls hope people of all ages will use the new facility.
“I know I’ve said it before, but really mean it, my hope is that this will be a true community center,” Sut Marshall said. “It’s much more than just a rec center for the kids. This building is for the entire community.”
There is still work to be done in the new facility. “We want to finish the stage and put in a sound system,” Eastman said. Eastman estimates it will take about $75,000 for those projects but said the Friends of Rec continue to seek grants.
There was a soft opening of the center in June and officials are planning a special community celebration in September.
“We are going to have a grand opening Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m.,” Eastman said. “We want to reach out to all the donors — whether it be financial or donated services — and contractors, and recognize them, and want to share with the community what we all have here.”
Eastman believes the rec center has turned out better than he envisioned.
“The thing that I’m really most proud of is I believe we’ve kept every promise we made to the public,” Eastman said. “My gratitude runs deep to the town and school officials, the Friends of Rec., the board of selectmen and I’m really thankful to Mark Guerringue and The Sun. You’ve afforded us coverage and Mark really believed in our vision, I’ll always be grateful for that.