WAXAHACHIE — A transformation is underway at Lee Penn Park to add upgrades and new amenities for residents.

Construction crews began working in the park about two weeks ago.

Through this project, the park will receive several significant upgrades. Some of those upgrades include a covered and lighted basketball court, a pipe rail fence, new playground structures, new concrete parking lot, irrigation system and a covered pavilion. The Waxahachie City Council approved the $813,200 bid from J&K Excavation at is Feb. 20 meeting.

The project is estimated to take six months to complete.

“After two years of planning and budgeting, we are finally starting. It took a long time and a lot of anticipation, but we are so proud to be under construction. I think that it is going to really improve the area because we are adding so much more activity and useable park space,” Waxahachie Director of Parks and Recreation John Smith said. “We had a basketball court, but now we are improving the basketball court and making it regulation size and covering it. So that means that during the heat of the day you can be out there and enjoying it. You won’t have to leave in the middle of the day and come back later in the day. You can play all day.”

Smith said a new large pavilion is going to be built on the site where the former youth center once stood.

According to a Feb. 23 Daily Light article, the youth center building first served as a schoolhouse in Reagor Springs and was moved to Waxahachie in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s through a partnership with the Optimist Club and a group called the Regular Fellows. The building then was then converted into a recreation facility, which it served as through the 1980’s. It later hosted an after school program through the early 1990’s and then sat vacant for a number of years. In 2009, the city council awarded the use of the building to former professional boxer Earnest Smith for his youth boxing program called “Rock Solid Boxing.”

The youth center was then the victim of two fires — with the first taking place in August of 2013 and the second in January 2014. Waxahachie Fire Marshal Dennis Crecelius ruled both fires as arsons. The damage from the fires and the water used to fight it made the building structurally unsafe to occupy.

After the fires, the city looked at whether to repair, replace or demolish the structure and put something else in place. During this time residents and the city worked together to identify the direction for the future of the park. Meetings held to get input from the public, and a committee was formed to generate ideas.

Smith said there has never been a pavilion in the park and with this addition. He also added that it is going to provide more opportunities for community events to take place and improve the events that already take place in the park.

“We finally had to remove the youth center from Penn Park and we are replacing it with a large pavilion. So all the community events that we already have can now be stationed under the large pavilion,” Smith said. “Now groups who what to have a party, a family reunion, a small church service or whatever, will have a place to go at Penn Park.”

Smith also noted the use of all pavilions in the parks is on a first come first serve basis, but members of the public can reserve one for a specific event. The new pavilion at Penn Park will be folded into the city’s existing pavilion policy. Rentals are $25 for half a day and $50 for all day.

Smith said the construction would not impact the activities at nearby Penn Park Pool that opens this summer, but other events might be affected.

“Of course we will have Juneteenth coming up and we will have to do some interesting scheduling of events for Juneteenth. Anybody that is interested in doing summer revivals can contact me and we will work around that. There are other spaces in the park that we can still use,” Smith said. “There won’t be much activity on the weekends. So the park, for the most part, will all be usable on the weekends. We are going to try to have it as safe as possible and as clean as possible.”

Lee Penn Park is located in the 400 block of Getzendaner St. in Waxahachie

SUMMER RECREATION PROGRAM

The City of Waxahachie is gearing up for its annual summer recreation program. The city will be opening community pool at Penn Park again and is partnering with the Waxahachie Independent School District to have the gym open at the Turner Learning Center, located at 614 N. Getzendaner for the public to use.

"We will basically open to the start of school in August. It is free to the public and I hope that everyone comes out and swims. We will have our open gym at Turner Monday – Friday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. The mornings are just for school age kids. Then the afternoon is open to the public. So if anyone wants to come in and exercise, shoot baskets or get a pickup game of basketball going they are welcome to do that at Turner gym,” Smith said. “Then, of course, WISD coordinates all of the different summer camps whether it is football, softball, baseball or soccer. There will be one of each sport for boys and girls. We are looking forward to coordinating with WISD on that.”

Smith said the pool is on track to open around June 5. It will be open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday during the summer.

"Penn Park Pool has been in service since the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. It has been around for a long time, so we want to continue that tradition. There are generations of Waxahachians that have used the pool. I have talked to parents and grandparents that have said 'I remember swimming in this pool when I was a kid.' So we are really proud that we have served the public in that way for so long,” Smith added. “We have our pool manager from last year, Curtis Polk Jr., returning as our pool manager. He will be seeking out and hiring lifeguards for us. There are not going to be any big changes with the pool. It is going to be the same as always.”

For more information about the construction at Lee Penn Park, pavilion rental or the city’s summer recreation program, Smith can be reached at 469-309-4271

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