Park district holds grand celebration at The REC

‘The Hub City was in need of a hub for the city's growth and improvement’

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ROCHELLE — On Aug. 28, 2019, the Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District held a groundbreaking for The REC Center at 802 Jones Road in Rochelle. 

On Aug. 28, 2021, the park district held a grand celebration at the facility after it opened Dec. 1, 2020. The celebration was put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $14 million facility includes a four-court gymnasium, indoor turf, a fitness center, multi-purpose rooms, an indoor walking track and an aquatic center with two pools. 

"I wanted to say welcome to everyone who has come to this incredible investment in Rochelle's future,” park district Executive Director Jackee Ohlinger said. “The REC Center is something that wasn't accomplished over the past two or three years. It's something we've been working on with past boards, staff, community members and I want to say thank you to everyone who was involved in that.”

The grand celebration included raffles, contests, giveaways, activities and a one-day membership sale. Ohlinger and Park Board President Tim Hayden spoke at a kickoff ceremony. 

Hayden said The REC is something he thinks a lot of people had hoped for and wanted to see happen. Rochelle needed a place for residents to go and shoot a basketball or throw a baseball without having to know somebody who had a key to get into a facility, he said. 

“And I'm happy to say I've shot a basketball, walked a few laps around the track, hit a lot of ground balls to my son and I've been able to do a lot of those things for all different types of recreation,” Hayden said. “Not to mention the many other things we've seen go on here. We're just very fortunate that rarely does a facility like this get to be built half a block off the corner of Main and Main in a community. Now, not only can we do all of those things, but it's very accessible to a very large bit of our population."

Hayden talked about the design that came to be at The REC and said it was important to get a multitude of amenities under one roof. 

“What really drove the facility concept was having some turf and then having courts, but also being able to drop shades and having the ability to walk around while you use those other things,” Hayden said. “Or on a day like today being able to have it open as the whole thing. We wanted to be able to have as many things going on at the same time as possible.” 

Hayden praised Ohlinger and park district staff for the work they did to bring the project to fruition. She and her staff were able to come up with details of how The REC was going to work. 

The park board wanted the building to be about Rochelle’s community, and not just a facility for regional tournaments that would see residents locked out. 

“We have to have some of that for revenue, but wanted to balance that as much as possible,” Hayden said. “Jackee and her staff from the start, their organization and determination led the way to this being what it is today. We have a great membership, and it's all because of what they've done."

At the end of the day Saturday, The REC had 2,004 total members nine months after opening its doors. That exceeds its previous one-year goal, which was actually surpassed before opening. The REC averages 9,000 users per month, equaling Rochelle’s approximate population. 

Ohlinger called the construction and opening of The REC “a great adventure.” She thanked current and former board members for their vision and dedication to the project. 

“These elected officials don't receive a paycheck,” Ohlinger said. “But they do put in the hours. And over the past three years they've been led by Board President Tim Hayden. It was Tim's persistence and genuine passion for the community of Rochelle that pushed his team. I can honestly say without Tim, this phenomenal community center wouldn't be what you see today."

Ohlinger called The REC more than just a gym. It was built for open, flexible space to fit the needs of now and the future for all ages and interests and is a foundation for good things to happen, she said. 

“There were needs identified for the park district and the Rochelle community,” Ohlinger said. “There needed to be improvements in the quality of life for Rochelle through recreation. The Hub City was in need of a hub for the city's growth and improvement."