By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
3:07 p.m. | August 17, 2017
PRINCE GEORGE – Last Saturday’s forecasted rain showers tapered off long enough for residents to make their way down Prince George Drive to attend the open house event for the county’s Central Wellness Center, giving them a first-hand look at new features and upcoming additions to the facility.
The former school building-turned parks and recreation department facility has become a hub of activity over the past several years, with various exercise classes, from Zumba to yoga, basketball leagues, and other activities taking place a short distance from one of the county’s more heavily traveled cross streets, Route 156 and U.S. Route 460.
Saturday’s open house served to highlight a further expansion of the center’s offerings, giving residents a look at a planned computer lab and the recently completed fitness center while meeting members of the Prince George Parks and Recreation Department team.
Last month, the department received the blessing of the board of supervisors to move forward with looking for grant funding and developing plans for a computer lab at the center, citing a lack of access to high-speed internet for many of the residents in the general vicinity of the Central Wellness Center.
During the open house, Prince George County’s Information Technology Director Kirsten Cherry showed a demo of what the lab will look like once it is fully operational come September around the time students return to school for the upcoming year.
According to Cherry, the county was given 13 carrel desks by Orange County at no cost to Prince George as they were in the process of renovating one of their libraries and had no use for the like-new desks that will get a new life in the Central Wellness Center.
When the doors open to the lab following the Labor Day weekend, Cherry said they were will be a total of six computers available for use by county residents, with more stations planned for the future as the Prince George Rotary Club is working to secure grant funding for additional computers in the lab to supplement the county-owned machines currently available.
Additionally, residents can bring their own devices, such as their laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and connect to the center’s wireless internet and they will be able to print documents from the computers at the center.
“This is going to be a computer lab that is open to the public and free to join,” Cherry said. “We are going to have a similar checkout system that the library does but, instead of using your library card, we will still create a card like you have for the gym membership so that we can put you in the system and you will have a login and those items.”
To start, Cherry said the computer lab will be open similar hours to the fitness center, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays, with the goal of adding some morning hours to the rooms offerings in the future.
“This is one of the first places that Prince George Electric Cooperative put high-speed internet in and having the internet speed here has been really great,” Cherry said.
Going forward, she expects the computer lab to become a popular asset of the center in the weeks and months following its opening.
“Because this is an underserved area and it is going to be a lot closer than the library, I think you will get some spillover from J.E.J. Moore [Middle School] as students can come here right after school and work on things so we are hoping to get the hours up and running,” she continued.
Across the hall, following a soft grand opening in the spring, the Central Wellness Center’s new fitness center saw a steady stream of people make their way in and out of the room, looking at the new equipment, which includes six pieces of weight equipment, dumbbells, and over a dozen pieces of cardio equipment.
Prince George Parks and Recreation Department Director Keith Rotzoll explained the new fitness room was a months-long process to bring to fruition.
“George Paulson, the head of Prince George Building and Grounds, basically oversaw this project and Robbie Callis pretty much worked in here for four months ripping out old cabinets and painting,” Rotzoll shared. “I wish I would’ve gotten a before-and-after picture because it is amazing the difference in here.”
Even before the first piece of workout equipment was moved into the building, Rotzoll said the conversation about the center’s offerings had been ongoing.
“What County Administrator Percy Ashcraft really wanted us to focus on is expanding the use of this facility,” he shared.
The Center currently serves as the home of the Prince George County Food Bank and the county’s youth wrestling group.
As they looked at the concept of expanding their offerings, Rotzoll returned to conversations he had with residents regarding their own personal access to various county recreation and leisure services.
“We had such great success with the John Randolph Foundation grants at our community center in the north end of the county, but the only thing people would complain about was that it was too far away for them,” he revealed. “So we applied for this grant and we were fortunate that they gave us the grant for this, which paid for three-quarters for the fitness room.”
Currently, the fitness center is open 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays, but Rotzoll said they plan to expand those hours next month by adding morning hours of 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., with all of the building’s programs and offerings aimed at giving Prince George residents choice.
“It is very exciting to look at this from the Parks and Recreation Department [view] because now we have so many different options,” he said. “We have our building which we do things out of but now there is one more centralized for residents because our goal is to give Prince George residents as many options as possible; healthy options, be it exercising for your body or for your mind through the computers.”
While Saturday highlighted some of the center and department’s completed projects and near-term goals, Rotzoll said he, along with the county, is thinking long-term about the future of the county’s leisure services offerings, including further improvements at county assets like Scott Park.
“I think Scott Park has a lot of potential with trails because people walk their dogs there often,” he said. “We could even put a pond there for fishing. The possibilities there are truly neat,” noting his idea to create a Scott Park master plan that would see the public getting input on the future amenities added to the park.
Within the walls of the Central Wellness Center, Rotzoll admits there’s little way for the Parks and Recreation Department to fill every room of the facility, but he sees that as an opportunity for community outreach.
“This building is so large, you could probably house some community groups in here and community organizations,” he said. “Similar to the food bank and the wrestling group, I think there is room for organizations to come in and stake claim to it.”
Along with the computer lab, Rotzoll noted they are also looking at adding a senior citizens lounge to the Central Wellness Center similar to what they have at their current offices, giving the county’s older population another place to meet up and spend time with friends and family.
“We get a lot of people coming through between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. most mornings,” he said. “Afterwards, they head to the library and have coffee. They become such a close group of friends and it’s such a social environment. We are looking at doing something like that here.”
At the end of the day, it was hard for Rotzoll and the county staff on hand for the event to contain their smiles as residents toured the facility.
“I love my job because you don’t have many jobs where your goal is to make people happy,” Rotzoll closed.
To learn more about the Prince George Parks and Recreation Department, visit the county’s website at http://princegeorgeva.org and click the “Residents” tab and “Parks and Recreation” or call 804-458-6164.