CARENCRO — A former ice arena along Interstate 49 is about to be transformed over the next year to become the city’s first indoor recreation center.
The design phase is underway to convert the 32,000-square-foot structure into a recreation center that will provide an array of features for sports and fitness enthusiasts.
The 17,000-square-foot ice rink inside the structure will be converted to a turf field lined for soccer, lacrosse and football. An area once home to a Zamboni and the arena’s massive ice-refrigeration system will be refitted for batting and pitching practice. And a planned 11,500-square-foot addition will offer a wooden court for basketball and volleyball and possibly rooms for aerobics.
“It will really be diverse,” the project’s architect, Lynn Guidry, said Friday at the arena.
“And what a great location!” Parks and Recreation Chairman Murray Conque added.
Situated along the southbound frontage road of I-49 between the Veterans Drive and Gloria Switch Road exits, the 3.1-acre property had been vacant almost a year before the city bought it for $1.8 million in December.
Conque said the deal was simply too good to pass up.
The city originally planned to build a 19,000-square-foot recreation center from the ground up near Pelican Park off University Avenue at a cost of $3.75 million. But when the arena went up for sale, the city seized on the deal to double its plans.
The arena does have some unusual features.
“The insulation is probably three times more than we need,” Conque said, noting the structure was built to maintain an ice rink through sweltering Louisiana summers. “I think it’s gonna be energy efficient as well.”
The project will be completed in two phases. First up is to remodel the existing structure, which is tattered from more than a decade of use and a year of vacancy.
Inspectors have already scrutinized the property, Conque said.
The structure is compliant to accommodate disabled patrons. However, a sprinkler system will need to be installed and new air conditioning units will need to be purchased. Lights that currently hang about 12 feet from the ceiling will be replaced with recessed lights to avoid collisions with errant balls.
Plans are also in the works to pave and possibly enlarge the gravel parking lot, and the city will have to decide whether to replace existing amenities — like sinks and toilets — or clean up the ones already installed.
“Those are the things we’ll have to evaluate,” Guidry said.
An existing room next to the concessions area will be converted into an arcade, and two other rooms will be converted to conference and party rooms.
A wood and Plexiglas wall built to shield spectators from hockey pucks will remain, and — along with abandoned ice skates and hockey equipment — the building’s sale came with a working scoreboard.
Guidry said he expects bidding for the project to begin in about a month, with the first phase of construction set to begin by the end of summer. The second phase should be complete by the same time next year.
The cost for the first phase of construction is estimated at $830,000, which includes an additional 20 percent contingency to cover any unexpected costs that might arise, Guidry said. But phase two — which involves adding a gym to the structure — is estimated to cost about $1.76 million, putting the city about $640,000 over its $3.75 million budget for an indoor rec center.
“We just don’t know yet whether we’ll have to scale back or ask for more money,” Conque said.
Regardless, the city is getting a good deal on the project, he said. To build a similar-sized center from the ground up would have cost the city upward of $8 million.
The project is paid for with money from a one-third of a penny sales tax in Carencro that’s dedicated to parks and recreation. The fund also paid for recent improvements at Pelican Park.
“We’re debt-free and everything’s paid off,” said Conque, who’s overseen Carencro’s parks and recreation department for 22 years. “It’s something I think Carencro can be proud of.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825