Fire destroys Tampa rec center

Aaron Mesmer reports

- A fire ripped through a popular recreation center early Thursday morning, destroying what had been the heart of a Hillsborough County community.

Firefighters are trying to figure out what caused fast-moving fire at the Winston Park Recreation Center in Clair-Mel.

"We feel heart-broken this morning to see something like this," said Jose Rivera, who has been using the facility for years and could see the flames from a few blocks away. "This is 10, 20, 30 years of people who have come here and now something like this happens and now it's gone."

Late Thursday afternoon, investigators could be seen digging and taking pictures in one area of the debris. It's unclear how long it will take them to determine a preliminary cause.

The recreation center is just around the corner from Clair Mel Elementary, Dowdell Middle School and Lil Pals Preschool. Neighbors described it as a safe haven for children.

"No matter what age you were, they were accepting for you to come in here and be a part of what's going on on our community," said Rivera.

"This community center it was a ray of hope for this community and now it's taken away, hopefully it's just temporarily," added Roger Stanley, Principal of Dowdell Middle.

Earlier this year, the recreation center received a $2.5-million gift from the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay to renovate the building. There's no word yet if the renovation had begun or what will happen now to the building.

A spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Club said in a statement that the organization was relieved no one was in the building adding, "it is our hope that this event will not deter us from our progress and we are committed to finding a solution once all the investigations are completed."

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