First built in 1960, the Merrill Center is getting a long-awaited re-do and city officials, community residents and the Chamber of Commerce Red Coats were all on hand Friday for what was dubbed “Merrill Center Groundbreaking 2.0” at the center.

“I’m excited about what is taking place,” Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Director Samuel Glover said. “This has been a long time coming for this community.”

Back in December, the Pine Bluff City Council approved a plan to upgrade the center including work on the community center part of the building and the boxing gym, but not the basketball court and gym area, which will be done by the city’s Economic and Community Development Department using funds they have on hand.

The plans include upgrades to the kitchen area and since the building was originally a boys club, the addition of women’s and ADA compliant restrooms, as well as new flooring and new paint. Renovations to the boxing gym will include upgraded and ADA compliant restrooms and renovations to the coaches office. Work in both areas will also include the installation of LED lights as well as work on the heating and air conditioning systems.

“It’s been a long process to get to this point,” Glover said. “Now we’re ready to move forward on our journey.”

Mayor Shirley Washington said “this is a day we have all looked forward to for a long time. We’ve been working on this project for a long time and we had to make this happen.”

She said that when the center reopens, it will not only provide recreational opportunities for young people, but will serve as a cultural center as well.

Work on the renovations was projected to take about seven months and while the renovations are underway, the Merrill Center’s programs will move to Greenville Elementary School.

“We hope to be back here sometime later this year for a ribbon cutting,” Washington said.

In his opening, Parks and Recreation Director Glover said the renovations were a long time coming and Architect Fred Reed of the Reed Architectural Group, who worked on designing the renovated center said he had looked at some notes and discovered he had done some work on cost estimates for a redesign seven years ago.

“This is a great building,” Reed said. “It’s structurally sound but not much has been done for the 60 years it’s been here.”

In closing the brief ceremony, Glover said thanks to a number of groups and individuals, specifically mentioning the Simmons Foundation, who provided funding. He also acknowledged State Farm, who awarded the center a $25,000 grant to Go Forward Pine Bluff which applied for the grant to renovate the Merrill Center kitchen. Those funds will be used to purchase kitchen appliances, cabinets, flooring and other necessary amenities.