Board plans activities, upgrades at Newton Recreation Center

Aug. 27—NEWTON TWP. — Once in danger of being sold, the Newton Recreation Center is undergoing improvements.

Since forming in March, a nine-member board has organized historical items from the center's days as a school, repainted and fixed the outside basketball and pickleball courts, and added a new basket. They have also fixed the front stairs and are repainting the building's flagpole.

"We've accomplished a lot," board Chair Terry Purcell said.

They plan to get a $25,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to fix the gym floor, and get new windows and a basketball hoop. The board applied for a $5,000 Lackawanna County Community Re-invest grant for new sports equipment, bleachers, a grill, bike rack, pickleball nets and benches.

Susan Richter, the center's event coordinator, said the board prioritized work that had been put off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bobbi Jo Klinkel was hired in the spring as the building's administrator.

"We have a lot to offer; we're just trying to do it slowly," Richter said.

Some of their long-term goals include setting up a computer lab and gym.

Originally built as the township's school in 1939, the township has operated it since the late 1990s. Earlier this year, the township supervisors considered selling the building on Newton Ransom Boulevard because there weren't enough volunteers and staff to maintain it. But Supervisor Chair Doug Pallman said it won't be sold based on the board's activity.

"The supervisor board is extremely ecstatic and frankly proud of the group that has stepped forward," he said. "The residents of Newton Twp. really put their time and energy behind the success of our recreational center."

Pallman said officials hoped residents would step up to take care of the center but struggled to generate interest. The supervisors' discussions of selling the property, beginning in 2018, were prompted by the lack of interest. He is proud of the board's work.

"They're just doing a tremendous job," he said. "They're putting a lot of time and energy."

The township spent about $11,000 for staffing and maintenance of the facility last year. Pallman said supervisors are so impressed with the board they are thinking about increasing the amount spent on the center in next year's budget.

The upgrades don't affect the center's tenants, Daydreamers Child Care and A Steppin' Time Dance Company. Supervisors approved leases through June 2024 with the businesses in the spring.

While youth sports and activities occur at the center, Purcell, who served on the center's inaugural volunteer board, hopes more activities for adults and children will be offered. Many have expressed interest in yoga and Zumba classes, she said.

"We're trying to hit where the interest is," Purcell said.

An online portal was set up for the public to more easily rent space inside the building. The outdoor area is available from sunrise to sunset. The public can email or call 570-586-7808 for more information.

The community seems to like the work that has been done. Last month, a group attending a birthday party in the building spent most of the time looking through the old pictures and photo albums in the history room for people they knew, board member Denise Miller said.

"And then they bring the kids in and said 'this is your great-great-grandmother,' " she said.

The center is particularly important for Richter as her father, Charles Richter, went to school in the building, graduating in 1948. Some of his basketball trophies are displayed in the history room. Richter also went to grade school in the building.

Board members want more people to see the building. A reopening ceremony is planned for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 23 during the center's fall festival.

"We have a very energized committee that's dedicated to ensuring that the facility lives on for the community to use and provides something for everyone in the area," Purcell said.

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