RESERVE – Although the building has been in use since December, St. John the Baptist Parish officials celebrated the grand opening of the $2.4 million Regala Park gymnasium Thursday and used the celebration as an opportunity to push a parish referendum to redistribute existing property taxes to put more money into the recreation department.
The 15,000-square-foot gym, which includes office space and meeting rooms for the Recreation Department, was completed in the fall. The building was designed by Meyer Engineers and built by Block Construction. Parish President Natalie Robottom said she would like to see the facility become a home for a wide range of parish activities for people of all ages.
“The gym was strategically located at Regala Park, which was once our premiere recreational facility,” Robottom told a gathering of parish officials and residents at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “But if we use this only for recreation it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Robottom said the parish has purchased a covering to protect the court surface from scuffs and other damage caused by folding chairs. She added that the gym has already played host to two Biddy Basketball tournaments that generated more than $10,000 across two weekends late last year. She also said the gym’s close proximity to the parish’s senior citizens center offers those residents the opportunity to use the facility.
Robottom said she wants the gym to serve as the starting point for continued growth of the recreation department that would be fueled by passage of three tax propositions on the April 21 election ballot. The parish is asking residents to approve a reshuffling of existing property taxes in a way that would provide $830,000 per year for recreation programs.
The department’s current budget is $645,000, with all but $60,000 coming from the parish’s general fund. The remainder comes from parish video poker revenue, which is on the decline.
“The recreation department has never had a dedicated funding source from property taxes,” Robottom said. “Passage of the propositions would allow us to follow through on a wide range of plans to expand recreation to involve more activities and more residents.”
Recreation Department Director Terrance Jones said the parish wants to add arts and crafts programs and more activities for girls, including cheerleading, volleyball, soccer and other sports. He said the addition of the gym has been a great start.
“It is a great structure to work with and work from,” Jones said. “We need everyone to come together – parents, coaches, players and others – to maintain this momentum.”
Councilman Lennix Madere said the gym, and future improvements to Regala, should give the youth of the parish a sense of pride in their community.
“I can remember when Regala was opened in 1978, along with Ezekiel Jackson Park in Garyville,” Madere said. “The kids were so excited to have those places to play, and I want to see that same level of pride again today.”
The three ballot propositions pertaining to recreation include the following:
• Authorization of a 2.25-mill property tax for recreation. Approval would allow the parish to dedicate 2 mills of property tax now dedicated to streetlight debt repayment to the recreation program. Robottom said there is currently a surplus in the streetlight debt service fund.
• A lowering of the 4.86-mill property tax for streetlight operations by 1 mill.
• Dedication of 0.75 mills of the streetlight operations tax toward