Shovels gripped by members of the Boaz City Council moved dirt Thursday morning to begin construction of the city’s much-anticipated $12.75 million recreation center.

“It was a team effort, and I’d like to think it was a community effort,” Boaz Mayor David Dyar said before breaking ground on the new facility. “As I said, this is another big step in making our community the community it needs to be.”

Located at 425 South McCleskey St., the recreation center will occupy the former outlet property and face Boaz 9 Cinema. It is planned to be approximately 46,000 square-feet. The center will feature an indoor eight lane pool, an outdoor “resort style” pool area, two activity rooms and a gymnasium with a mezzanine.

Councilman Jeff Davis felt like the new recreation center holds a lot of potential for the future of the city.

“Just like the city park is for all ages, this city park is for all ages,” Davis said. “We’ve tried to design it so the potential is there to build on, if we see the need arise … I’ve already talked to someone who has talked about expanding their business here, so there’s a lot of potential here.”

After the groundbreaking ceremony, Davis also expressed his thanks for the behind-the-scenes work of Kerry Walls, who is the city’s economic development director, and Jill Bright, the city clerk.

Councilman David Ellis reflected on the journey that led up to the ground breaking Thursday morning.

“This has been a long process,” Ellis said. “I know many of you remember when, back in the day, this place was a bustling outlet center right here. I remember when the first building was built up here, and then the second one was up there. It turned into something special that we’re known nationwide for — that we [were] an outlet town. But like a lot of other places, sometimes, we have to reinvent ourselves. I know we look around and see a lot of empty buildings and see a lot of empty ground in this area. We just hope this project, as it moves forward, will revitalize this area and our whole town.”

Councilman Mike Matthews also pointed back to the council’s first conversations about a recreation center.

“From the first meeting we ever had, after we took office, we started talking about this,” Matthews said. “It’s finally coming — it’s going to be here.”

Councilman Johnny Willis said while it could be one of the biggest projects in the city’s history, the council doesn’t plan to stop with the recreation center.

“We’re still going after businesses,” Willis said. “My dream is to fill this place up, and I really think it’s going to happen — I really do. So, y’all just bear with us. It’s going to take some time, but we’re going to get it done.”

Sonja Hard, who is the city’s parks and recreation director, was thrilled to see shovels in the dirt.

“Being in the position I’m in now, it is — I don’t have the words for it,” Hard said while trying to explain her emotions after the groundbreaking ceremony. “I’ve been in this area for years — I did move away for a few, but it’s still home to me. There’s been a lot of things talked about, and like other communities it gets pushed to the back burner. And for this to be at the present and for it to actually happen is just phenomenal. It’s a great day for Boaz. It’s a great day for the citizens and the community of Boaz.”

Hard said people shouldn’t be worried about comparing Boaz’s recreation center to the facility currently under construction in Albertville, and realize how special this recreation center will be for the Boaz community.

“Albertville is building ‘the Taj Mahal,’ and everybody wants to compare Boaz to Albertville … and you can’t,” Hard said. “You can’t compare silver to gold or a penny to a million dollars. That’s what needs to be set aside here. Yes, I am proud of Albertville, and I appreciate what they’re doing. I think it’s going to help our whole county out. But to me, Boaz is building —as the mayor and council has said — for our community. It’s our kids. I’ve worried about the Albertville progress, because to me — and I don’t meant to sound negative — a lot of their focus is on bringing money in. And every city wants to do that, but I’m worried about their youth and their local kids. I really think our step today, and with the park, it’s all about our community. Boaz is much smaller, so we can’t really compare to those things, but we can do what we can do for our community and our kids within. And, that’s what I hope we build on here.”

With construction officially beginning Thursday, the new facility is expected to be complete by November of 2020, but Walls said the city hopes it can be finished earlier.

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