Crews scrambling to get Kroc Center ready for opening day

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - This week, Salvation Army employees are moving their offices from under the old Yankie Stadium bleachers to their new home right next door.

"Yeah, it's a big difference. I don't think we're going to have to worry about water dripping on computer screens and stuff like that over here," said Kroc Center Administrator Terry Ray.

And the staff is working feverishly, trying to get the equipment and furniture in all the right places.  But there's still a lot to be done to get the $22 million Kroc Center ready by September 19.

Most of the work is taking place in the Aquatic Center. This weekend, water will be gushing through the lazy river, splash pad, lap lanes, and the hydro-therapy bench.

"They're cleaning up everything, all the construction things that are left over," said Ray. "They're putting in the final touches, making it look pretty and then we're going to put water in it and turn on the pumps and see if everything's working all right.

Crews are also putting the final touches on the Play-Care, chapel and performing arts center, health and fitness room, and the huge gym.  There's also a banquet hall, conference rooms, and a cafe.

"We are incredibly excited just to get the construction guys out and get it clean. So there's not a lot of dust floating around. It'll be very nice," said Ray.

The final project is to tear down the old bleachers at Yankie Stadium that have been deemed structurally unsound. Some bleachers have already come down. The goal is to remove the entire structure, and install some aluminum bleachers before opening day.

"We're re-surfacing the track with state-of-the-art materials to make it easier on knees and ankles. Folks can still run around the track and we're keeping the football field and soccer field so that we can still play games and have some sporting events," said Ray.

The 52,000 square foot center on Division Street is supposed to help revitalize east Biloxi and help the community recover.

"The area had just been devastated by the storm and we've been healing and recovering and all that," said Ray. "This is just one more step. It's a big part of the community, being able to heal and get back to a normal way of life."

Funding for the center came from the late Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc.    Another $20 million gift will help support the operation of the center.

There is a fee to use the facility, with different fee structures. You can purchase day passes for $10, or yearly memberships for $500 for up to five people. The Salvation Army offers financial assistance to those who can't afford the fees.

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