Community Center opens

By Ruth Longoria

The new $12.4 million Community Center at Mercer View was a hit with young and old as hundreds of Islanders came to dedicate the new facility during Saturday's grand opening. The upstairs of the 42,744-square-foot facility was packed with children, adults and seniors filing through the meeting rooms and foyer. Many listened to the guest jazz band, or speeches from center staff and Mayor Alan Merkle. Some sampled refreshments, shot some pool in the game room or tried out the new laptop computers in the computer room.

Downstairs, in the gymnasium, the noise of the upstairs crowd was drowned out by excited youths as they shot hoops and dribbled dozens of basketballs. Older adults paused on the massive staircase to gaze down at the activity through a wall of windows overlooking the gym.

``I'm overwhelmed, it's so beautiful,'' said 93-year-old Peg Johannsen, as she sat down in the computer room with her friend, Anne Price, 86, to take in the wonder of the long-awaited structure. ``I saw the plans and I kept track as the building was coming along, but I still didn't realize it was going to be so big,'' Johannsen said.

The two women, who live at Covenant Shores Retirement Home, both were frequent users of the old community center. ``That just wasn't in the same class as this,'' Price said. ``This is amazing!''

Across the room, Paula Peterson, of Kirkland sat at a table with her senior citizen mom, Lu Hop, a 43-year-Island resident. Peterson pointed out a few ways for Hop to begin using Internet access on the computers, which will be available for rental as well as to use in computer classes. ``This really is wonderful,'' Peterson said. ``It's going to provide so many opportunities to learn and socialize. They didn't have anything like this when I went to Mercer Island High School. This is long overdue.''

Former Parks and Recreation Department operations manager Mike Elde brought his new boss from the Mount Vernon Parks & Rec. to see the Island's new center Saturday. Elde said he was really proud to show off the new center. ``This is just so much nicer than I even expected it to be,'' Elde said. ``This goes to show what can happen when people work together, and the Island has a great group of people who really do work together.''

City clerk Ali Spietz was on hand during the four hour extravaganza to hand out free raffle tickets. She said she was impressed by how many people showed up to support the new center. ``It's been a constant flow of people and we've got a lot of compliments on the building, because it's just so cool,'' she said.

Island Park Elementary School students Matthew and Nicholas Hanson and Brandt Waesche thought the center was pretty cool too. The youths spent much of their time shooting pool in the new game room. ``We'll come here all the time if they let us play pool here,'' Nicholas, 10, said as he called his next shot: ``This one in the corner pocket.''

The architectural beauty of the structure wasn't lost on many grand opening attendees, including 69-year-old Rita Schaab, who ran her hand adoringly over the bronze art-embellished railing above the center's staircase. The railing contains bronze panels that depict plants and fauna, as well as imagery reminiscent of the fruit orchards that used to cover center site. The rail artwork, appropriately entitled ``The Island,'' was created by eastern Washington sculptor, Wayne Chabre.

``Oh, this is fabulous,'' Schaab said. ``In my wildest dreams I didn't imagine it would be this grand.''

Programs are planned to begin in January at the new center; however, rentals of the facility are already being booked. Twenty-seven-year-olds Jamaal Botley and his fiancé Iris Rigney, of Lake Forest Park came to the opening to check out the facility for their wedding, which they are planning for Aug. 19. The couple and Botley's sister, Jamarah Botley, 22, are planning a double wedding, with Jamarah's fiancé Mario Motley.

``I am so impressed with everything,'' Jamaal Botley said. ``My sister saw the plans for the building during a wedding show, but it is so much more impressive to be here.'' He said attending the opening helped make up his mind about renting the facility. ``The views and everything is so nice,'' he said. ``I really like it.''

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