CARTHAGE, Mo. — An estimated $1.7 million renovation project has transformed the former Game On Sports Complex in Carthage into a feeding center and entertainment safe haven strictly for children and teens in the community.

After months of renovation, Fair Acres Family YMCA conducted a ribbon-cutting celebration on Thursday for the new YMCA Family Activity Center at 400 S. Maple St. The complex features a 5,000-square-foot indoor playground with a birthday party room, interactive gaming systems, a state-of-the-art sports simulator, a youth dinner program, a concession stand, a kitchen, video game area, as well as two full-size basketball courts for volleyball, soccer and pickleball.

“It’s definitely awe-inspiring,” said Jonathan Roberts, executive director of the Carthage YMCA. “It’s great to see something that’s come to fruition that we started on that’s going to have such a big impact on the community.”

The YMCA acquired the building last year from previous owners Paul and Michelle Heidlage, who put it up for sale. Renovations were officially kicked off over the summer.

Roberts said the project would not have been possible without support from the McCune-Brooks Regional Hospital Trust, which provided a $1.45 million grant, as well as the Kent D. & Mary L. Steadley Memorial Trust, which funded the sports simulator.

“Access to this facility will be free to all YMCA members, or a day pass could be purchased for the public for use,” he said. “The only exception to that will be the sports simulator, which will be rented out by the hour.”

The YMCA Family Activity Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 17, 19 and 21. Roberts said beginning next school year, the YMCA will be running the center as a free community teen center for students in grades six through 12 from 3 to 6 p.m. on school days.

Grace Episcopal Church, Walmart and individuals donated thousands of dollars to help kick-start the feeding program. The goal is to feed up to 400 people per day with a capacity of up to 1,400, according to Roberts.

“Teens will be able to come use the facility for free as a hangout, place for study, club meetings, recreational play, online video gaming and more,” Roberts said. “We’ve also partnered with the local DARE officer who can come and interact with those children since they see him every day in the school district.”

In memory of Steve Fierro

Over a hundred community members attended the ribbon-cutting, which also honored a late Carthage firefighter, Steve Fierro, who died on duty in 2004 while responding to a restaurant-bar fire in Diamond. A mural of Fierro holding his helmet was painted above the concession stand and bears the name, “Steve Fierro’s Kids Cafe.”

“Steve was in a line-of-duty death 16 years ago last month,” said Roger Williams, Carthage fire chief. “In my career, it was the most dramatic, tragic event that’s happened. When you lose someone who’s your friend and colleague, it takes a lot to get over that. … Today, we’re here to honor his memory and his ideals. He was a fun-loving guy, and if you were ever around Steve, his smile was something that would grab you.”

Fierro’s family, including his mother, daughter, granddaughter and twin sister, attended the ceremony. Courtney Fierro-Hicks, his daughter, said she thinks the new activity center is wonderful and loves that the food program is in her father’s memory. She brought her 2-year-old daughter, Hazel, who was excited to run around the 23,000-square-foot sports complex.

“I think it’s a great place for kids to be able to come, and I love the fact that they’re feeding kids,” Courtney Fierro-Hicks said. “He loved kids, and he was a good dad.”

Courtney Fierro-Hicks described her father as funny and lighthearted. Linda Fierro-Pruitt, Steve Fierro’s mother, said naming the feeding program after her son is a wonderful tribute because he was involved with youths in the community, often dressing up as Santa and Johnny Appleseed.

“She (Hazel) loves to play, and I’m going to try to instill as much as my dad in her as I can and teach her about him and how great of a dad and grandpa he would’ve been,” Courtney Fierro-Hicks said. “This definitely helps keep his memory alive.”

Melissa and Cory Burke brought their 2-year-old son, Avery, to the celebration where he enjoyed the playground. The couple said they love that the activity center is local and within walking distance from their house.

“I like how it’s in the area, and we don’t have to go all of the way to Joplin,” Melissa Burke said. “We live around this area, so we’ll be here a lot. He (Avery) loves to play.”

Grand opening

Jonathan Roberts, executive director of the Carthage YMCA, said that due to the coronavirus outbreak, a grand opening day for the activity center has been delayed for now. However, a soft opening is planned next week during spring break. Day passes for non-YMCA members are $5 for minors. For more information, go to the Fair Acres Family YMCA Facebook page.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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