WAXAHACHIE — After months of renovations, Lee Penn Park will open to residents on Thursday morning. A ribbon cutting will be held to celebrate the new upgrades, amenities, and improvements to the park.

“It is really exciting to see one of our older parks dedicated back in the 1930’s that has been used and loved for so long to be renovated,” Waxahachie Parks and Recreation Director John Smith said. “Now it is going to be used for future generations for years to come.”

In this first phase of renovating the three-acre park, a covered and lighted basketball court, pipe-rail fence, new playground structures, a new concrete parking lot, irrigation system and a covered pavilion were all installed. The Waxahachie City Council approved the $813,200 bid from J&K Excavation at is Feb. 20 meeting.

The new pavilion was built on the site where a 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 1950s or early 1960s through a partnership with the Optimists Club and a group called the Regular Fellows. The building was then converted into a recreation facility, which it served as through the 1980s. It later hosted an after-school program through the early 1990s 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 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 were held to get input from the public, and a committee was formed to generate ideas. The decision was made to demolish the building and put the pavilion in its place.

Smith stated that the new pavilion will provide more opportunities for community events and functions.

The next phase of upgrades will start in 2018 and will include a renovation of the existing football field.

At the ribbon cutting, community leaders Jessie Gibson, Betty Square Jefferson, Waxahachie Mayor Kevin Strength and council members will share a few words about the renovated public space. Members of the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce will also be present and free food will be available.

Smith encourages members of the public to attend the ribbon cutting and see the improvements. The ribbon cutting is set to take place at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 12 at Lee Penn Park, located at 404 Getzendaner St.