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Posted March 9, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Busy building: Recreation center offers a variety of activities for all ages

young bagpipers practice
Young bagpipers, from left, Sean Reidy, 15, James Klix, 15, Kevin Cooksey, 11, and Bryan Lafollette, 12, practice at the War Memorial Building at Jim Barnett Park. Dennis Grundman/Daily

youth play soccer
Youth play soccer at the new gymnasium at the War Memorial Building. Dennis Grundman/Daily

watercolor classes
From front, Jessica White, Ramana Heyman, Samia Farah, Lorraine Kuhl, Stephanie Pritchard and instructor Liz Hackney participate in watercolor classes at the War Memorial Building. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Hackney instructs watercolor class
Hackney, standing, instructs a watercolor class as Lorraine Kuhl, front, and Stephanie Pritchard, participate. Dennis Grundman/Daily

John Taylor, the pipe major
John Taylor, the pipe major, of Winchester pipe and drums, conducts a class at the War Memorial Building at Jim Barnett Park. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By J.R. Williams


WINCHESTER -- Tuesday night here doesn't look like Tuesday night anywhere else in the city.

At one end of the newly expanded War Memorial Building at Jim Barnett Park, basketball players stalk the court, shouting with their hands raised. Parents trade stories poolside while watching their children.

In a classroom nearby, young boys blow earnestly into their bagpipes.

Every night of the week, traffic is heavy with people flexing their literal or creative muscles in classes offered by the Winchester Parks and Recreation Department. A surprising range of programs are available, from bridge to kickboxing.

In a meeting room next to the pool, a handful of aspiring artists are brushing watercolor onto canvas under the guiding eye of their instructor, Liz Hackney.

After four weekly meetings, the class is less instruction than collaboration. Hackney works with each artist individually to discuss form and technique, occasionally offering wisdom to the whole room.

"In the middle of your painting, you have to have that moment where you think, 'Ah! This looks terrible!'" she said. "You have to have a reason to keep going."

Hackney is one of several instructors that are teaching classes simply because they pitched an idea to the parks staff. Hackney said she's been painting watercolor for about 20 years and teaching at Jim Barnett for about five.

"You paint for so long, eventually you think you want to share it," she said.

Leslie Bowery, youth development and creative arts coordinator for the parks department, said the number of people who registered for classes has jumped since the holidays.

"Right now, times are kind of tough, but people need to find that hobby that they enjoy doing," she said. "We've got great classes and great instructors."

She said classes usually range from five to eight weeks. Registration is about to begin for the summer, when even more programs will be added, she said.

In the works is a special needs gardening class and an all-ages sign language class, which Bowery put together after receiving a few requests.

Anyone can offer to teach a class or request one, she said. If there's enough interest, they'll set it up.

An activity guide listing summer classes is scheduled to come out in April, but registration is still open for a number of fitness, aquatic and sports programs.

Among the classes coming up are a dog training course, kickboxing, Pilates and a parent-child music class. Craft classes are scheduled for Easter and Mother's Day. New sections of Latin, jazz and disco dance classes also are opening up.

"If anybody is looking to go to the disco dance they have at Apple Blossom, to learn or remember the steps, the disco class would be great," Bowery said.

Most classes charge a fee, which is slightly higher for people who don't reside the city.

For April, several special events are scheduled at the park, including two Easter egg hunts, a baseball skills tournament and an Earth Day celebration.

Visitors to the park have the advantage of the new addition to the War Memorial Building, dubbed the Active Living and Recreation Center. The $5 million facility includes an open social hall, a commercial kitchen and the brand new basketball court.

During the day, the facility serves as a senior center and is home to the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging. After-school programs also use the facility.

Back in the watercolor class, Lorraine Kuhl is painting alongside her niece. She said she's taken a number of art classes at the park, but that this was her first venture with watercolor.

"I'm still getting the hang of it," she said. "For me, it's tricky. I'm used to being in control, and this is not a precise art.

"Not that I'm a great artist," she said, grinning.

The Active Living and Recreation Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. For more information, call 662-4946.

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