Las Vegas Sun

August 27, 2014

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Making over Mirabelli

Las Vegas Leisure Services officials say because of pending demolition of the old Mirabelli Community Center, fall activities will be moved to two sites near the 6200 Elton Avenue facility.

Registration for autumn programs will be from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9 either on-line at clvbeyondtheneon.com or by calling (702) 229-5445 or (702) 229-6359.

Here is the schedule of major fall activities, pending the Las Vegas City Council's approval of $7,500 for three months' rent for Red Rock Baptist Church's recreational facilities at Alta Drive and Upland Boulevard. The item is expected to be on the Aug. 3 Las Vegas City Council agenda:

Winter activities are scheduled for the new Mirabelli Center in January, officials said.

Lori Scharar was one of the first "Talented Tyke" preschoolers at Las Vegas' Philip M. Mirabelli Community Center when it opened in 1964.

Her mother took adult exercise classes there and Scharar's children have been going to the facility off U.S. 95 and Jones Boulevard for about a dozen years.

While she and other "Mirabelli kids" will be sad at the closing ceremony and party for the old building at 6200 Elton Ave. at noon Aug. 6, they say the $6.7 million Mirabelli Community Center under-construction next door to the old building will offer so much more. It is scheduled to open in January.

The current Mirabelli center will host its final activities on Aug. 31 and is to be bulldozed on Sept. 7 to be turned into a parking lot for the new center.

"It will be bittersweet to see the old place go," said 44-year-old Scharar, who also has been an instructor at Mirabelli and today serves as an office assistant there. "There is such a total sense of community here.

"But I believe the new Mirabelli Center will have that same heart and soul. This community is growing, and not only will new people come to the new center, but past patrons will come back for expanded programs."

Donna Konopka, 40, a Las Vegas resident of 12 years, does not even live in a neighborhood near the Mirabelli Center but brings her children there because of its good reputation.

"I feel my kids are safe here -- it is so family oriented," she said. "They keep staff members here a long time, which is a sign of a good, solid program.

"There are a lot of people like me who live in areas that have bigger community centers, but we choose to come here. And we look forward to coming to the new Mirabelli Center."

When city officials were making plans to build the new 31,500-square-foot center, it also was decided that Mirabelli Park on that site also had to go.

Also, several years ago, the Las Vegas City Council, amid protests from area residents, approved the $3.67 million sale of a nearby 7-plus-acre park at Torrey Pines Drive and Hyde Avenue to accommodate the widening of U.S. 95.

June Ingram, president of the Charleston Neighborhood Preservation Association, said the loss of both the larger park and the nearly 5-acre Mirabelli Park took away the area's two major outdoor venues for family gatherings and grassy areas on which children could play.

"We support the new Mirabelli Community Center, and we understand that you can't have both (a park and a large community center) on that space," Ingram said. "The new building will offer a lot of opportunities and activities. Still, it's sad to lose that little green space there.

Ingram said her group concentrated its efforts on attempting to save the park on Torrey Pines because of the amount of activity that went on there.

"The big park was used from morning to night," she said. "It really was a loss to the neighborohhod -- a place where families socialized and watched games, a place where kids' feet could hit the grass and they could play."

As for the sacrifice of Mirabelli Park to make room for the large community center, Ingram said, "I just hope the people in the neighborhood participate in the use of the center and benefit from it."

Currently, the Mirabelli Center has 730 registered members, and each month about 5,000 children and adults utilize the facility that offers 75 classes and programs, ranging from its acclaimed gymnastics squad to its innovative conversational Spanish language course, Bartling said.

Mirabelli Center Director Sue Bartling is the fourth person to serve in that post in the facility's 41-year history.

Bartling, who has spent 21 years at the center, the last 17 as director, said her immediate goal is to keep the center's activities going through the fall at two nearby facilities and keep her part-time staff of 28 together until they can move into the completed new center in mid-December.

"The staff's ideas were included in the construction process -- our opinions on everything from the color schemes to the size of the rooms to fit our needs," Bartling said.

The gymnastics room alone will have 3,500 square feet of space -- half the size of the entire old Mirabelli Center.

Jennifer Blanchard, 35, who first came to Mirabelli as a preschooler, is the director of the Mirabelli Magic Gymnastics Show Team that today is to will perform at a USA Gymnastics meet on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif.

"I'm so excited about the move because it will finally give me a chance to bring in aspects we do not have because we did not have the room," the former competitive gymnast said. "We will offer tumbling, trampoline and other programs that will take recreational gymnastics to a whole new level."

The Mirabelli Magic has performed all over the West, including at Sea World, Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland.

"We started (in 1995) with just two classes with 20 kids and now we have 20 classes with 250 kids -- the growth is just amazing," Blanchard said, noting she expects that in a short time the new facility will have 500 children registered in gymnastics classes.

The new center also will include a teaching kitchen, special events room, a Talented Tykes preschool classroom, a weight room and a 10,000-square-foot gymnasium with bleachers for basketball and volleyball leagues -- a revenue source the old center could not generate with its tiny multi-purpose gym.

The new facility was a long time coming, said Amy Carver, director of Mirabelli from 1978 to 1988.

"So much has been needed to be fixed for so long," Carver said. "We were constantly patching things up. There never seemed to be enough money to totally renovate the building."

Carver says she is glad some of the pieces of the old building will be salvaged and made part of the new facility, including placards honoring distinguished alumni.

Also, at the Aug. 6 closing ceremony for the old building, patrons are being asked to bring vintage photos taken at the facility over the years for a contest. The winning entries will be enlarged and posted in the new facility.

City officials admit that with the closing of the old Mirabelli Center, named for a late city councilman of the 1960s who campaigned for parks and recreational facilities, they are losing a slice of history.

Bartling notes that the old Mirabelli building was the first in Las Vegas to feature a pyramid-shaped component, a tower-like roof jutting over the gymnasium.

But she and others say the projected gains far outweigh the potential losses.

"There is a lot of history here (in the old building)," Sharar said, "and a lot of history to be made in the new place."

The following parks, community centers and other recreational facilities also are expected to open within the next year in the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson and in Clark County:

Las Vegas:

North Las Vegas:

Henderson:

Clark County:

Note: Not all of the costs for parks reflect just taxpayer money. Several of the above parks were built either as part of a public/private partnerships with developers of area residential subdivisions or through a fee paid by developers to assist governments in building parks. Also, some developers build parks then deed them over to the government for maintenance.

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