by Heather Tomlinson
Dialogue continues on possible expansions at one of the local city-owned gyms.
During Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting, Councilor Jim Eastham asked whether any progress had been made into expanding basketball court space at either Rocky Hollow Recreation Center, located on Grand Central Avenue, or the Somerset Family Fitness Center, located off Ky. 39.
“I’m still getting a lot of comments and a lot of feedback,” said Eastham. “Lot of people wanting to see something happen of this kind.”
The council has been discussing the idea for several months. In late November, Eastham and other councilors expressed an interest in expanding the basketball courts at Rocky Hollow, noting that both staff members and city residents have asked about the expansion for both recreation leagues and for Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball tournaments.
Eastham has pointed out that with the two programs combined, some 135 different basketball teams utilized Rocky Hollow’s two courts last year.
The AAU league brings in players and their families from outside of Pulaski County, and Eastham pointed out that Rocky Hollow is one of only three AAU-sanctioned locations in the state. The other locations are in Lexington and Louisville, and both have at least eight basketball courts compared to Rocky Hollow’s two.
Several other councilors have weighed in on the idea.
“I know that we’ve really got a great park system in place ... but I’ve had some concerns about the number of teams, coaches, kids ... and how the park system will maintain that,” said Councilor Tom Eastham in December. “I would like us to look into that.”
Councilor Jim Rutherford, who’s youngest son has participated in the AAU leagues, said expansion is warranted.
“The possibility of expanding is there,” said Rutherford in December. “It will be used, there is no doubt about it. Participation has probably doubled since I was involved in it years ago. It’s just unbelievable.”
Since the initial discussion in December, city councilors have brought the issue up a number of times.
In January, the council approved hiring an architect to do a study on both Rocky Hollow and the Somerset Family Fitness Center to determining which location would be most fitting for an expansion.
Jimmy Eastham during Monday’s meeting said staff members at Rocky Hollow “have a couple pretty good ideas” on how to expand.
On Friday, Mayor Eddie Girdler — who left Monday’s meeting early and wasn’t in attendance during the discussion — said the city may focus on expanding the fitness center because the city-owned property encompasses around 17 acres.
“We’re looking at a significant expansion at the fitness center,” said Girdler.
That expansion could include improvements and changes to the indoor pool in an effort to make it more attractive to tournament organizers, padding an indoor track, and adding more basketball courts.
Girdler pointed out that space limitations at the Rocky Hollow property would make significant expansions difficult.
“The expansion to Rocky Hollow would be very limited,” said Girdler.
But, in a related note, city officials are working with the Watershed Arts Alliance to build an outdoor amphitheater on the Rocky Hollow property. Girdler said the groundbreaking on that project should be soon.
No matter where the expansion takes place, city council is focusing on easing overcrowded conditions with the AAU and recreational basketball leagues.
“The needs versus what we have, it just looks better and better,” Jimmy Eastham said Monday about expanding the courts.
Councilors said more courts will equal more revenue as well.
“To pay for it, we do have revenue sources and we can be competitive,” said Rutherford.
Girdler on Friday said the architect has been working on a study, but the report hasn’t yet been turned into the city.
Girdler said he expects the report within the next few weeks and said it will be presented to the council as soon as possible.