Residents Reap Benefits of Recreation Success - The Villages Daily Sun: News

Residents Reap Benefits of Recreation Success

David R. Corder, Daily Sun Senior Writer | Posted: Friday, December 22, 2017 8:00 am

The District Recreation & Parks Department was a big part of enhancing the lifestyle of Villagers like Lisa Melcher and Ted Wright this year.

Although skilled in acrylics, Melcher completed a beginning oil painting class through the Enrichment Academy the department formed earlier this year.

Wright benefited from expanded internet access, with the department rolling out WiFi service at all village recreation centers as a complement to the services already available at the regional facilities.

The District recorded many other accomplishments this year for the people it serves through the resident amenities program, District Recreation Director John Rohan said.

“Adding ‘parks’ to our department title, the development and creation of the Enrichment Academy and the opening of the recreational amenities in the Village of Fenney are just a few of the successes this year,” he said.

Those achievements also provide residents visual proof of the District’s ongoing effort to provide the highest quality lifestyle possible, Rohan said.

“Our core values are a living, breathing part of our culture,” he said. “We embrace and get excited about the continued opportunities to improve and expand so residents can get the most out of their lives.”

Residents like Melcher, of the Village of Collier, reaped the benefits of the VHA advocating the creation of the Enrichment Academy.

The VHA, The Villages homeowner advocacy and community service group, saw a void in the community’s continuing adult education and urged District Manager Janet Tutt and Rohan to fill that need with what became the Enrichment Academy.

“Based on a letter from the VHA, the Village Center Community Development District board of supervisors supported staff’s efforts to develop and implement this exciting programming for the residents of The Villages,” Tutt said. “Successfully rolled out in 2017, the Enrichment Academy reflects this community’s desire to learn and explore, and we are pleased to be able to provide the opportunity.”

Its creation also gave Melcher an opportunity to stretch her artistic skills.

“The instructor did rather well teaching the students how to use the oil paints, how to mix colors and challenged us to use just the primary colors,” she said. “I’ve never been challenged like that before. So that was good. And I would recommend (the academy) to a neighbor.”

WiFi access at the recreation centers means a lot to Wright, of the Village of Winifred, as president of The Villages Computer Club and a facilitator with the Connected Villager and Hands-On Tech clubs.

Wright relies on the recreation center WiFi service to give presentations during his volunteer work with residents through the lifestyle clubs.

“I’m glad to hear it’s now available at all village recreation centers,” he said. “I would rate their service as excellent, although it is an unsecured network. So you need a virtual private network (on a phone, tablet or laptop computer) to safely use as an encrypted service.”

Resident Input

One of the biggest accomplishments occurred this year south of County Road 466.

The Project Wide Advisory Committee assumed oversight of the amenities the Sumter Landing CDD acquired in November 2016 south of CR 466 and north of State Road 44 for about $340 million from The Villages Developer.

Residents experienced a seamless transition, because the District already managed those facilities, said Peter Moeller, the volunteer PWAC chairman and elected member of the CDD 6 board of supervisors.

“This is a terrific step forward for the residents south of County Road 466 to have a direct voice in amenities for which they pay a fee to use,” said Moeller, of the Village of Caroline. “The residents have direct access to the PWAC, which has a representative from each CDD south of 466; therefore, they can bring any concern, or more importantly suggestions, directly to the PWAC, which meets on the second Monday of every month.”

That oversight ensures the required ongoing maintenance and lasting quality of these assets, he said.

“Going forward we encourage residents to come to our meetings and provide their input, and we will continue to do our best to maintain the high standards that the residents of The Villages have come to expect south of CR 466.”

The goal of ensuring resident input accounts for why that transition this year counts as a big success, Tutt said.

“Resident input is a critical aspect of good governance in The Villages,” she said. “Sumter Landing’s partnership with the Project Wide Advisory Committee provides another valuable opportunity to work cooperatively in providing the sustainability of amenities.”

Solid Results

Such resident input also explains the success of two important recreation upgrades the Amenity Authority Committee completed this year north of CR 466.

The AAC approved the expenditure of about $1.9 million to widen and improve the multimodal paths around Hacienda Hills Country Club, the adjoining executive golf course, down the Lake-Sumter county line to Rio Grande Avenue and then from Panama Plaza across Del Mar Drive to Chula Vista Recreation Center, in addition to smaller swaths at El Camino Real and Morse Boulevard and behind Paradise Recreation Center.

“These are the last sections of multimodal trails not addressed by the AAC,” District Property Manager Sam Wartinbee said. “We’ve widened them on average 1 to 3 feet. There were some areas, because of physical constraints, where we couldn’t widen it more than a foot.”

Most of the remaining work should be completed by Jan. 5, though a smaller section along El Camino Real will be completed in late February, he said.

“There’s still some punch list items to deal with, but I’m confident they’ll all be taken care of satisfactorily,” Wartinbee said.

Because of the work’s proximity to the golf course, Wartinbee said, The Villages Developer also invested $225,000 in private dollars to improve the landscaping where the course meets the multimodal path.

“I’m very pleased with the work,” he said. “And we’ve received complements at our Welcome Wednesday presentations.”

In July, the AAC and District staff also celebrated the grand reopening of Saddlebrook Recreation Center.

District staff worked in partnership with The Villages Design Division on the $1.6 million interior renovation and expansion project, Wartinbee said.

“Everything was gutted,” he said.

The scope of work include an expanded billiards room with the addition of a unisex bathroom, all new bathrooms and interior finishes, Wartinbee said.

“I’m very pleased with the result,” he said. “It came out well.”

Dreams to Reality

All of those successes complemented the expansion of new recreational amenities designed as part of The Villages’ growth in and around the villages of Fenney and Southern Oaks.

New facilities opened included Fenney Recreation Center, the adjoining Fenney Grill, Fenney Springs Nature Trail, Fenney Putt & Play, the Spanish Moss and Blue Heron recreation areas and the Gray Fox and Red Fox executive golf courses.

Just like all other sporting facilities in The Villages, Gray Fox and Red Fox became immediate destinations for resident golfers, said Erik Greulach, assistant director of golf operations for The Villages Golf & Country Club Administration.

“They’re very popular and full every day,” he said. “We get rave reviews on Gray and Red.”

Staff with Recreation & Parks took on these new responsibilities with enthusiasm, Rohan said.

“We saw it as an opportunity,” he said. “Anytime there is newness in growth it gives everyone a boost of energy that, in the true fashion of how we did things in the past, the future is going to bring even greater recreational potential.”

Already, the Developer has disclosed in planning documents two new major recreational facilities — Everglades Recreation Center and Everglades Softball Complex — in the fast-developing Phase III area of Southern Oaks, an area north of County Road 468 and west of Florida’s Turnpike that extends north and northwest of CR 501.

“Look for 2018 to transform even more dreams into reality, building upon our core values with more creative and innovative components to enhance The Villages’ active adult lifestyle,” Rohan said. “Next year, you can expect more great facilities, programs and services, as well as volunteers and team members — all focused on our residents.”

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.