DALTON, Ga. - The slick varnished floors gleam squeaky-clean like mirrors and the white mesh hoops are waiting for the first dunked ball, ready for the first visitors to walk through the doors.
Three years after the Dalton Community Center was closed and demolished, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new building and renovated grounds that authorities hope will be the center of this community in the eastern part of the city.
The center is scheduled to open Dec. 1, with the playground and outdoor athletic fields ready for use by February.
The building is mostly completed except for a few finishing touches. Outside, the parking area, playground, splash pad, picnic pavilions, sports fields and walking track still are mostly large piles of red dirt.
"It is exciting to be here," community center manager Tom Pinson said Tuesday morning as he walked down the stairs after giving a tour of the indoor walking track and exercise room that overlook two full-size gyms.
"The focus is not just a center for this community but for the whole city of Dalton to come here and get healthy," he said.
The center, located at the corner of Fredrick Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, also will offer free meeting rooms, exercise equipment, picnic areas and outdoor basketball and soccer fields.
The main building has two floors, with about 45,000 square feet built on nearly six acres. A nearby building will serve as a field house and concession stand and provide outdoor restrooms. The entire complex is expected to cost around $7.5 million and was funded with federal grants, reserve city funds and $5.6 million in bonds.
The focus for designing and building the center was to provide services to everyone in Dalton, from babies to senior citizens, Pinson said. The old center, which was built in 1966, had 5,000 to 7,000 visitors a month, he said, but he hopes to up that number to about 10,000.
The community outreach begins with an office for the Women, Infants and Children program, a federally funded health and nutrition effort. A large lobby will have books from the library and couches where parents can read to their children. The books also can be checked out.
"When the kids come in with their mothers, we hope to get them started reading and being involved in activities," Pinson said.
Next to the Women, Infants and Children offices are more than half a dozen exam rooms for a walk-in health clinic. The city did not get a health grant it hoped to use to staff the clinic with a doctor and nurse practitioners, but officials still are working with the local health department and hospital to find funding.
A computer lab will be open for after-school tutoring programs and for students to complete homework.
In addition to the library and health services, the Creative Arts Guild, Dalton State College and the Dalton Police Department will offer services. The college, for instance, hopes to teach GED classes there.
There are four large meeting rooms that can be used separately or combined into one large room for group meetings. Another room provides an area for aerobic activities such as yoga and Zumba classes.
Two fully outfitted gyms each have six basketball goals and volleyball nets. Pinson said community members requested the two gyms so adults and kids could play separately. Some athletic programs and community athletic teams will use the gyms for practice and games.
Upstairs is the 1/8-mile walking track and fully equipped exercise room, overlooking both gyms.
"Parents can come up here to exercise and still keep an eye on their children playing in the gyms," Pinson said.
All the services offered will be free to the community, but the facility also can be rented for private events such as birthday parties.
During the tour, Pinson fielded a call from a community member who wants to host a traditional Hispanic Christmas event known as "Las Posadas" at the gym. Others have asked to use the center for Christmas dinner, he said.
Mayor David Pennington has made the community center one of his top priorities since taking office nearly four years ago. He has cut taxes and departments since taking office and said a performing arts center should be built with private funds, but says the community center is different.
"No one was going to do this; there was no private money," Pennington said. "And the people in that community can't afford it."
The area around the community center is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dalton, with about 25 percent of the people living below the poverty level. It is a mixed neighborhood, with a majority of Hispanics and some blacks and whites.
The center will have some paid staff, but volunteers will provide many of the programs for children, Pennington said.
"We want to bring the entire community here -- bring the west side of Dalton over to the community center," he said. "These kids need role models."