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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
The arena features two full-size basketball courts and can be converted for other activities, including soccer and aerobics.

From eyesore to community treasure

McMillen reborn as multipurpose activities hub

– It still has that new community center smell.

What was once an ice center has been transformed into the McMillen Park Community Center – a complex of two arenas and four multipurpose rooms that officials say will be a hub of activity.

And it opens to the public at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The city Parks Department shut down the aging ice rinks in 2009; $2 million in Legacy money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility transformed the empty complex into what officials say will be a resource for the entire community, not just the southeast side where it’s located.

Parks officials giving media tours of the facility Thursday were proud of the transformation but said the buildings are secondary to the programs that will take place there. Admission – good for all day – costs $1.

“The real satisfaction will be seeing people in here every day,” said Steve McDaniel of the parks department.

One arena has rubberized, multipurpose athletic flooring that can accommodate a full-size soccer field and three pickleball courts, has a walking track and space for an indoor playground that will be installed this fall. The other arena has 1,024 bleacher seats and a new hardwood floor for two full-size basketball courts.

Starting Saturday, the arenas will be home to aerobics classes, soccer and basketball leagues.

Three of the multipurpose rooms have at least one use already built in: One doubles as a dance studio, another as a reading room and library and another as an art room.

“They will come in (to the art room) to create their masterpieces. We have glitter, glitter and even more glitter,” said Alicia O’Neal, the center’s program facility coordinator. “I’m sure by the end of summer, this space will be glitterfied.”

There is also a computer lab with 16 stations.

The center is nicely air-conditioned, no thanks to a squirrel. On April 1, the furry varmint got into the electrical system and caused a massive power surge that fried the three new HVAC systems and damaged part of the boiler system. The squirrel’s fatal incursion caused about $300,000 damage, but officials said the system has been replaced and is operating normally. They’re hopeful insurance will cover the loss.

Parks Director Al Moll said the renovation changed an eyesore into a treasure.

“We had two options. We could either totally rebuild it or level it,” Moll said. “Leveling it, well, there’s not a whole lot of vision in that. … But this will serve the whole community.”

It will also serve many needs the department has been unable to meet, such as larger facilities to rent for receptions and corporate events. The complex can seat 1,200.

“We got a lot of bang for our buck,” Moll said. “It really is a resource complex for the community.”

Saturday’s grand opening celebration begins with a ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m., followed by a community carnival from noon to 5 p.m.