SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – The recreation center in the spa town has a new name.
It is now called the Scott T. Johnson Recreation Center, named for the mayor who saw the facility built. A small renaming ceremony took place on Thursday afternoon, unveiling the first of three sets of letters that will adorn the building. A larger and more elaborate official ceremony will take place in the spring, when larger gatherings will hopefully be safer.
Johnson served as mayor of Saratoga Springs from 2008 to 2013, serving three terms. The recreation center was built in 2010. Johnson recalled that getting the facility built was not easy as he initially faced huge opposition to the project, including lawsuits. Johnson fought hard and persevered, and the $6.5 million building was completed on time and on budget.
“When I took office, there was about $6 million that had been bonded for the idea of building a recreation center, but no action had been taken – nothing close to a shovel in the ground,” Johnson explained. “As a conservative accountant, I didn’t think it was right to endorse a project and not do it.
“We are too good a community not to meet the needs of our people.
Johnson worked hard to get the recreation center built, knowing it would be an invaluable resource for community members of all ages. Derrick LeGall, Chairman of the Recreation Commission, was by his side every step of the way.
“My passion is for young people and doing whatever is necessary to give them a better future,” commented LeGall.
Now, 11 years later, the recreation center is everything Johnson hoped it would be and more.
It is indeed leveraged by the community in a wide variety of ways. The facility offers programs that benefit all ages. They have a youth basketball league with over 400 participants, pickleball teams that play on the facility’s nine courts, community halls used for everything from Boy Scout meetings to training for police and firefighters at birthday parties, summer day camps that teach students how to play tee-ball and baseball, ice skating, an outdoor playground and splash pad, and much more.
Its central location makes it accessible to all. It’s in a cycle and pedestrian area, there’s ample parking and it’s on a bus route.
“I have a lot of people to thank for building this building,” Johnson said. “It’s designed to serve all ages in the city and it’s really accessible to everyone.”
Leisure center manager John Hirliman says it is difficult to count the number of people who use the center on a daily basis. In addition to the hundreds of people who register for camps, clinics and programs, there are thousands more who show up, either as participants in the activities or as spectators.
On a match or tournament day, Hirliman says there is a turnover rate of around 200 people per hour.
What Hirliman knows is that now more than ever, the recreation center is an important resource for the community.
“We have had a significant increase in participation in our programs during the pandemic,” he commented.
The recent decision to rename the recreation center after the mayor who made it possible has been enthusiastically received. Outgoing finance commissioner Michele Madigan worked hard to ensure the change was made before leaving office. Unable to attend the name change ceremony in person due to COVID safety concerns, Madigan zoomed in to be a part of it.
“I’m so happy that we were able to pull this off for Scott,” she commented during her videoconference. “It’s a heavily used building. I don’t think there’s anyone in the community now who doesn’t think this is a necessary install. All that opposition that was there at the start faded away.
“I think it’s amazing to be able to show your appreciation to the people who support youth programs. It’s wonderful,” Hirliman remarked.
“It’s well deserved,” agreed LeGall. “If it weren’t for the mayor’s perseverance, we wouldn’t be in this building today.”
Johnson himself described the name change as “an honor and a lesson in humility”, calling the Scott T. Johnson Recreation Center “a great asset to the community for all ages”. He, however, refused to take sole credit for himself, reminding everyone that he had plenty of support to get the facility built. Johnson is very grateful to the members of his staff, recreation commission, recreation department and city councils who were there during his tenure.
When the biggest renaming ceremony takes place in the spring, Johnson will speak in detail about the people who helped him build the recreation center, personally thanking them and giving them the recognition he knows they deserve.