By Marty Farmer
Since the Oct. 5 grand opening of the Park District of Oak Park's Gymnastics and Recreation Center (21 Lake St.), the staff, program participants and their parents, and even a handful of adults taking a class, have quickly discovered there's no place like their new GRC home.
Previously located at 218 Madison St. in Oak Park, groundbreaking for the new gymnastics and recreation digs began on Oct. 4, 2012. Almost a year to that date, the grand opening included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a brief video presentation about the new GRC, and an open house, including facility tours, gymnastics activities for children, and a tent in the parking lot with refreshments.
Although GRC has only been open approximately six weeks, the expanded space and program offerings have yielded an immediate spike in enrollment numbers.
"We were able to accommodate at least 300 more participants starting the week of Oct. 20," said Jamie Lapke, program and operations manager. "We currently have over 1,000 students registered for our programs coming through the facility every week.
"The reaction of people who come in here is like 'wow'. I think people are pretty amazed at the transformation from what we had at the previous location to what we have here. We feel like now we truly have a building that matches our program, which has always been very well regarded."
The 18,670-square-foot facility includes two foam pits (one at previous gym), a 40-foot in-ground tumble trac, two climbing ropes and two rings towers, a trampoline, a 50 x 18-foot spring floor, and dedicated preschool bars and beam areas.
"This is a really impressive place," said Oak Park resident Amy Henderson, whose 4-year-old son Oliver is taking a gymnastics class at GRC. "It's bright and clean and everything is new, with lots of room to move around. We used to go to the gymnastics center on Madison [Street] and this is much nicer."
Jennifer Malone, another Oak Park resident and the music director at Oak Park's School of Rock, recently visited GRC with her 3-year-old son, Desmond.
"I heard about the GRC through its grand opening and then Amy [Henderson] posted something about it on Facebook," Malone said. "It's our first time coming here. What an awesome place. It's perfect for letting active kids burn off some energy."
Program offerings are diverse, ranging from parent and child classes, along with assorted gymnastics, recreation and dance classes for children of all ages, and even an adult class. Popular open gyms are also offered multiple times a week. Birthday parties are another amenity for ages 3-16 on weekends, and other park district programmers have used the second-floor studio rooms to provide fitness classes and even a circus arts class. For a complete listing of programs, visit www.pdop.org.
In addition to Lapke, GRC has four full-time principal coach/program specialists and 20 part-time instructors.
"The extra space allows for more classes going on simultaneously, particularly during our most popular times between 4-8 p.m.," Lapke said. "We're trying to offer different classes each session to attract more people within the community. Gymnastics continues to be a popular program in high demand."