SOUTH COUNTY – Thanks to the installation of wireless Internet at 12 of its recreation centers, including three in the Brandon and South County area, parents can now work or socialize on their laptops while their small children play on swings and slides and their older ones take part in organized sports.
“There’s a wide range so people can sit inside or outside and pick up the Wi-Fi signals,” said Shorty Robbins, recreation services manager for the county’s Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department.
Available at 12 major centers around the county, locally it can be picked up without charge at the Brandon Community Center, 502 E. Sadie Street; the Gardenville Community Center, 6219 Symmes Road in Gibsonton; and the Ruskin Recreation Center, 901 Sixth Street S.E.
It is also available at some other recreation and community centers around Tampa, and in Thonotosassa, and Odessa.
“We’ve been expanding our services to include larger age groups,” Robbins said. “We’ve added gyms at several rec centers and are working on gardens so people can enjoy sitting outdoors with their laptops.”
Gardenville plans to eventually put benches and perhaps some other outdoor furniture in its garden area in front of the building where people can use their computers in a relaxing setting said director Dave Ramirez.
Joe Soletti, who has been rec center director in Ruskin only since Thanksgiving, said the ESOL (English as a Second Language) program is the first to use its facility wi-fi as a group. “They meet on Monday mornings at 9 a.m. and bring laptops,” Soletto said.
Robbins says she is hoping this community service will be helpful to many.
Instead of having to sit in a wireless café where you feel obligated to order food and drinks whether you want them or not because you’re blocking a table, or having to “be quiet” in a library, having wireless internet indoors and outdoors at the recreation and community centers operated by the county’s parks department will allow people much more freedom, she said.
They can just stop by and use the easy-access codes posted on the bulletin board, said Soletti, pointing to the flyer posted at the Ruskin center.
According to county spokeswoman Kemly Green, Wi-Fi is being phased in at most all county buildings, as costs allow. It has been added to County Center on Kennedy Boulevard, and many other county-owned buildings, with the objective of adding it eventually at all of them.
“The RNC (Republican National Convention recently held in Tampa) pushed it to the forefront,” said Robbins. “We had to have it for that.”
The service went live at the parks in October but most people are still not aware of it, she said. “This will make it easy for parents to work or socialize on line while their kids play, or take part is sports activities. They won’t have to leave them at the park and go elsewhere to use their laptops.”
This especially helps the ESOL group (for Spanish-speaking people who learn English) that meets Monday mornings at the Ruskin Recreation Center because the timing coincides with the center’s Tiny Tots program which means child care is provided.
In an interview Jan. 7, Janie Schrock, who teaches the program based at Lennard High School through the Hillsborough County School District, said she is hoping that the same program may soon be initiated in Wimauma where it is also badly needed.
“This is wonderful for us, because we take the GED class at Lennard as well,” said Natalia Garcia.
Another student, Manuel Garzon, is an accomplished graphic designer. He says he knows his computer technology but is glad to be perfecting his understanding and speaking of English.
The wireless Internet service at each of the recreation centers is available from 7 a.m. to midnight seven days a week and once you have gone inside to get the access code and entered it into your laptop, you will be able to pick up the signal outside and use your laptop for the Internet and to check your email during those hours even when the center is closed.