Isaac Holmes Jr., a lifelong resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, walks on a treadmill at the newly opened, $20.5 million Andrew P. Sanchez and Copelin-Byrd Multi-Service Center in the neighborhood, while the Rev. Johnny Hughes takes a spin on a stationary bike next to him.
"This is my pace," Holmes jokes to Hughes, slowing down the treadmill. Neither man seems particularly concerned with the crowd of politicians, volunteers, city officials and media in the atrium behind them, even Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who went from room to room meeting constituents. This is the facility Holmes and Hughes used pre-Katrina, and this is the facility they're excited to use again now.
"I've lived in this neighborhood all my life," says Holmes. "It's awesome. This is something we needed in the community."
Next door, a half-dozen teenage girls line up to take an impromptu dance class in a newly furbished studio, and across the hall, the sounds of a hundred bouncing basketballs reverberates as visitors take free throws and chase each other around the court.
"It shows people that the city really cares about the Lower 9," says District E Councilmember James Gray, who represents the Lower Ninth Ward. "The feeling here is that they're the forgotten child. This is the nicest center I've ever been in, in my life. There may be some nicer ones around. We really need to make sure that this thing is used."
[jump] Kyla Wright, Garyela Mott and Chelsie Johnson, all students at Dr. King Charter School across the street, have been running around the gym playing basketball. All three girls were born within months of Hurricane Katrina, and Wright says the 10-year anniversary of the storm that destroyed the original community center makes the grand opening of the facility special. "It came back," she says.
Wright, Mott and Chelsie say they're most excited about the 25-meter swimming pool that the facility boasts, in addition to two kitchens, a senior center, a computer lab, multi-purpose classrooms, a health clinic, a reading room and a concession stand. Gray says he's working with administrators at Dr. King to organize a swim team, and all three girls say they are very interested in joining.
"I can't wait to swim in the pool," says Mott.
The recreation center is a project of New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC), and a schedule of weekly activities, including yoga, piano lessons, basketball free play and, yes, free swim is available at the center.