Patrons first to try Kroc Center

The doors at the Salvation Army's new Augusta Kroc Center opened at 5 a.m. Monday. By midmorning a handful of first-day patrons were trying out recumbent bicycles, pool lap lanes and a lateral rock-climbing wall.

There wasn't enough time in anyone's day to learn all the 100,000-square-foot athletics, recreation, arts and education complex has to offer. So people got started by sampling.

So far, the aquatic center's water slide made the biggest impression on Theo Bolden, 17, of Augusta.

"I like it. It's creative," he said, though his brother Jacquez, 15, reported it was a little fast.

The 28-foot-high enclosed "tube" water slide begins indoors, goes outside the building, enters a water tower, curves around and re-enters the pool area.

The brothers also played basketball at the Kroc Center's gym.

"There aren't any outdoor courts in our neighborhood. We do have a gym there. But I can't go, because it's summer camp right now and I'm too old," Theo said.

Damien Simpkins of Augusta said he chose to be one of the first Kroc Center members because the Family Y is often crowded and this is closer to home and work.

"I'm very pleased. I'm very satisfied," he said. "I didn't expect it to be this big. From the outside it looks like a nice little community center, but this is actually a very huge facility."

Though the Salvation Army requires its Kroc Centers to be built in lower-income urban areas, its facilities by mandate must be excellent. Walking through the front doors of Augusta's Kroc Center, the impression is, indeed, more country club than community center.

Miniature track lighting brightens artwork in entrance areas and a long narrow fountain bubbles over a single-step waterfall. Neatly folded white towels are stacked in the fitness center and a faint odor of cleanser wafts through the air. Interior architecture incorporates the same red brick and bolted beams of neighboring historic mills, which are visible just across the canal.

Also, Kroc Center programs are required to serve a full range of ages and socioeconomic backgrounds at an affordable price. To showcase that effort the center, in its first few weeks, will offer on-the-hour tours and, to members, free samplings of its classes.

In the fitness center there will be group classes in weight lifting, step, cardio-combat, spinning, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, low-impact workouts and Zumba dance.

The aquatics center will have free drop-in water fitness classes beginning Aug. 8 and swimming classes for all ages starting Aug. 29. There will be music lessons and visual arts, acting and dance classes, GED, babysitting, cooking and senior health and lifestyle classes in the arts and education center.

Recreation offerings will include sports leagues, family nights, day camp and pool-, gym-, arts- or cooking-themed parties.

The scope is ambitious, but the Kroc Center's aim is to provide comprehensive community support.

"We want to reach out to all kinds of people and give them an opportunity to touch on something they've never done before," said Tanika Mason, the center's Arts and Education manager. "A lot of people do not have access to art, unfortunately. With budget cuts, that's something that gets dropped."

Josh McCall, a Kroc Center fitness instructor, said he's happy the emphasis is on helping members. He worked in the past for a commercial fitness center.

"This is going to be different, because it's not about sell, sell, sell. It's to help give people results and to help them have fun," McCall said.