Fairview Heights’ $21 million recreation complex is open, and you don’t have to be a resident to join
Mark Kupsky couldn’t stop smiling.
The Fairview Heights mayor was hobnobbing with charter members of The Rec, the city’s new $21 million recreation and fitness complex, at one of several VIP events being held in advance of its May 6 opening.
Kupsky was able to brag about the fact that the 57,000-square-foot complex has been getting rave reviews for its appearance and amenities; that it is opening on schedule and within budget; and that the demand for membership packages has been higher than expected.
It’s a dream that Kupsky had even before he became mayor in 2015. When asked to sum up his feelings Friday night, he pointed to his giant quote on the wall, across from the front desk.
“This facility shall serve as a testament to what individuals can accomplish when they work together,” he read. “The Rec provides a place where all people of all generations can enjoy fitness, fun and friendship.”
What the quote doesn’t say is that Kupsky and other officials also see the complex as a way to fill a 50-year void in Fairview Heights.
Founded in 1969, the city grew up around St. Clair Square mall, developing into a retail mecca that attracts shoppers from throughout the region, but it never had a “town square” or high school.
“I think (The Rec) will be a place where people can gather and get to know each other and feel like they’re part of a community,” said Angie Beaston, director of parks and recreation.
The complex is open to both residents and non-residents. The latter will pay $80 instead of $50 for a one-time enrollment fee and $5 more per month on individual or family packages. The city is waiving the enrollment fee for anyone who joins by May 31.
Exercise, swim, climb and play basketball
The Rec’s centerpiece is a window-lined, atrium-style lobby that looks down on a lower-level fitness center with cardio and weight-training equipment and rooms for yoga, Pilates and other classes; an aquatic center with a pool for laps and open swim, a water slide, splash pad and “lazy river;” and a gymnasium with a basketball court that converts into two volleyball courts.
A wildly colorful, upper-level climbing area known as “Clip ‘n Climb” was the most popular spot for kids at Friday night’s party for more than 80 “units” (individuals, couples or families) of charter members, who paid extra for lifetime discounts and perks such as designated parking.
“This is actually really fun,” said 11-year-old Emma Zelechowski who was climbing with her brother, Memphis, 9, as father Kyle watched. “I expected it to be much scarier, but once you do it a few times, your nerves calm down, and you think, ‘This isn’t that bad.’”
Even the mayor has climbed to the top of a 25-foot-tall feature called “Stairway to Heaven,” and he has the photos to prove it.
Also on hand for the charter members’ party were Matt Chambers, co-host of “Great Day St. Louis” and periodic weatherman on KMOV-TV Channel 4; his wife, Stephanie, and their six children, ages 4 months to 11. They live in Fairview Heights.
The Chambers family was among a handful of party guests who brought swimsuits so they could try out the lazy river. Matt, 42, expects the aquatic center to be their go-to place at The Rec, although he plans to make use of fitness equipment when he can sneak away.
“For us, a lot of this is about supporting the city,” he said. ‘We moved here 14 years ago, and it has become home. We had no kids then, and we have six kids now, so things have changed quite a bit, but we love it here.”
Charter member Bernadette Jones, 72, a retired schoolteacher, looks forward to using the indoor walking and running track and not having to worry about rain, snow, heat or cold.
Management specialist Christopher Robinson, 54, called The Rec a “statement place” that puts Fairview Heights on the map for more than just stores and restaurants.
His favorite feature? A punching bag in the fitness center.
“Everything is first-class,” said Robinson’s wife, Courtney, 57, who works in corporate communications. “We have belonged to other fitness clubs, and we have one at our place of employment, but we joined (The Rec). The equipment is top-notch, and they have staff that is knowledgeable about it.”
Run, parade, open houses this weekend
Fairview Heights plans to open The Rec this weekend with a big splash, literally and figuratively.
Festivities will kick off with a 5K Fun Run at 9 a.m. Saturday, followed by a parade from City Hall to the recreation complex and a 10:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. Open houses will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. Regular operations will begin at 5 a.m. Monday.
The complex sits on 33 acres at 10025 Bunkum Road. Outside, there’s a running track, walking path, soccer field and dog park.
“It’s beautiful at night,” Beaston said. “The way it’s lit up, you can see all the color (of the Clip ‘n Climb) as you’re driving up Bunkum Road, and from Interstate 64, you can see the swimming pool. We incorporated colored LED lights on our wing walls, so we can change them. For example, we can have red and green at Christmas. It’s really eye-catching.”
The city is offering seven monthly membership packages for residents, including $20 for a youth under 16; $25 for a young adult age 16-21; $30 for a senior over 60; $35 for an adult age 19-59; $45 for a senior couple; $60 for two adults; and $65 for a family of five.
Prices are $5 more per month for non-residents. Military personnel, first responders and people with disabilities get a 10-percent discount.
Membership packages have been selling faster than officials expected.
“We have over 800 units right now,” said Chris Tierney-Hurst, The Rec’s new facility manager. “That could be a household or a couple or an individual. Our goal for the first year was 894, so we’re on track. (Our new goal is) 1,000 units, and I think we’re going to blow that out of the water.”
Tierney-Hurst, 41, of Belleville, came on board last summer after serving four years as membership director at Carondelet Park Recreation Complex in St. Louis and working a short time for the Boy Scouts of America.
He came up with The Rec’s motto: “To inspire, motivate and connect people through recreation, exercise and community.”
Conception to completion in three years
In early 2016, the year after Kupsky was elected mayor, Fairview Heights City Council commissioned a feasibility study on the idea of building a recreation and fitness complex. Then they hired the local firm EWR Architects, which later was sold to Farnsworth Group, to design the giant structure.
The city bought more than 30 acres on Bunkum Road from Grant School District 110 for $650,000 with the understanding that its students could use The Rec’s outdoor facilities.
“I can’t wait for the first Grant School soccer game and the first track meet on the fields out there,” said attorney Tiffany Baldwin, 48, a member of The Rec’s community advisory board.
Baldwin attended the charter members’ party Friday with her husband, Lewis Thomasino, who slipped off with his 12-year-old daughter, Gemma, to the game room, which has ping-pong and pool tables. Son Silas, 16, works in the Clip ‘n Climb area.
The complex was built by Holland Construction, of Swansea, which broke ground in November of 2017. It’s designed to be expanded on either side in the future if the need arises.
The total $21 million cost included about $17 million for construction and $4 million for land, architectural fees, equipment and furniture. The city’s financing plan relies mostly on an $18.5 million bond issue that will be paid with proceeds from an existing food-and-beverage tax.
“I’m so proud that we were able to develop this beautiful facility without further burdening our residents,” Kupsky said.
The feasibility study indicated that The Rec’s location off Interstate 64, east of the Mississippi River bridge from St. Louis and near several other Illinois cities, would help it attract members from throughout the region.
The majority of fitness classes are free with membership, according to the website. Other amenities include a child-care center and space for birthday parties, meetings and special events. Hours will be 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.