SKOWHEGAN — School vacation week in April at the Skowhegan Community Center is a loud mixture of little voices, pounding basketballs, booming music from the gymnasium — and slime.

This year, as plans for expansion at the center on Poulin Drive get under way, is also an anniversary year.

Director Denise LeBlanc is celebrating 30 years on the job. She took over in July 1989, just a month before construction of the new Community Center was completed in August of that year.

It’s a double anniversary.

Denise LeBlanc, director at the Skowhegan Community Center, on Wednesday looks over some of the plaques and certificates of accomplishment earned at the facility in the last 30 years. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“This was just an open field,” said LeBlanc, 49. “We were down at the patrolman’s office at the Municipal Building. We shared one office — Deb Bowker, the director; maintenance; and me. We had one office and no facilities. All we used was the old junior high school gym, baseball fields and the Dill Center.”

At the time, the department had three baseball fields, a tennis court, football and gymnastics.

Now there are 18 parks and facilities within the complex off U.S. Route 2, three playgrounds, 10 miles of trails, eight athletic fields, seven park buildings, and an outdoor ice skating rink and basketball court.

The department serves 31,444 participants annually in 2,141 programs, including Easter events, a mom prom, a daddy daughter dance, a Portland Sea Dogs trip, a Bar Harbor excursion, pickleball, preschool classes and unified adult basketball.

On a school vacation day this week, it was all about getting messy and having a blast, LeBlanc said.

“We call it Vacation Week Fun Camp. The kids are using scooters and playing basketball and dancing to the music. They just want the music on — wearing some energy off,” she said. “The kids were painting plant pots today, planting seedlings, and they’re going to make slime next — the popular slime.”

Inside one of two large conference rooms at the center this week, a gaggle of younger kids were busy in a variety of activities. They included sisters Izabel and Charlotte Hamilton, 10 and 7, of Norridgewock.

“We’re making slime,” Izabel said. “I make it with glue, contact solution, baking soda, food coloring, and then I mix it.”

It was messy and sticky — and fun, the girls said.

“Very fun,” Izabel said.

Once the slime is made, the rest is simple. You play with it, she said.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said the growth of the Recreation Department has been an important improvement for the town.

Denise LeBlanc, director at the Skowhegan Community Center, walks into a room filled with children Wednesday during April Fun Camp while longtime employee Stephen McDaniel helps with a project. The facility has been in operation for 30 years. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“The Community Center is so important to our quality of life in Skowhegan,” Almand said. “There are programs for everyone, from toddlers to seniors. As I’m sure most people do, I have many special memories there — my kids playing soccer, Thanksgiving dinners with the community, the New Balance Spark Start program.

“And Denise has been there every step of the way. Denise started working for the town before the Community Center opened. She has grown with the center, and she has made the center’s growth a success. Denise does a great job of providing a well-rounded selection of programs and making adjustments to stay current.”

The department has four full-time employees, including Stephen McDaniel, who, at age 29, has been coming to the community center his entire life. He is now the center’s maintenance supervisor.

“I was a baby when I came here the first time,” he said. “I’ve been up here as long as she’s worked here. I’ll be 30 Sept. 17. It’s been good.”

So, a third anniversary.

LeBlanc, who was born in Connecticut and grew up on a farm in Dexter with her parents and five siblings, said she taught gymnastics before being hired as a programmer for the Recreation Department, organizing services and special events.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of state government and with parks and rec people,” she said of her many awards and recognition.

“I worked my way up. It all stems from my childhood with sports and a work ethic,” she said. “That’s how I was brought up — strong work ethic, hands-on. My parents made us responsible and were hardworking. I don’t do it for the accolades. I’m pretty humble. I do it because it’s just part of me and I love doing what I do, making a difference in people’s lives.”

LeBlanc said the upcoming Community Center expansion on land between the high school and the existing recreation center property will include 100 new parking spots, relocation of the maintenance garage, a concession and storage building at the football complex, new soccer fields, field hockey and multi-use fields, an adult softball field and a trail to the high school.

LeBlanc said the expansion project — in the works since 2006 — would add a “go by” travel lane on the right hand side of the roadway, beginning at Kyes Motel on Front Street and extending to the existing travel lane near the high school. The left lane would have a turning arrow painted on the pavement for visitors entering the complex and will have a crosswalk.

A celebration of the Community Center’s 30th anniversary (and LeBlanc’s) is scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, with a 21-and-over “Swinging into 30 Years of Service” party from 7 to 11 p.m. at T&B’s Celebration Center.

 

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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