Conroe city officials expect a long-promised upgrade to the Oscar Johnson Jr. Community Center to break ground on Foster Drive in mid-2022 after $35 million in funding was approved in December.

The new center is expected to span 87,000 square feet with a fitness center, child care areas and event space for 300 people, according to city information. The current center spans approximately 10,000 square feet, according to center Director Scott Perry.

“I see the need [for a new center] every single day,” Perry said. “The Oscar Johnson has always been repurposed—and now it has a chance for something new for the first time.”

The project has its roots in a 2014 feasibility study, which recommended the expansion of the center to meet the growing demand. The study found from fiscal year 2008-09 to FY 2013-14, the center saw visitors increase 185% to 104,703 guests annually. As a result, the city will build the center on a portion of 75 acres near Foster Drive, which the city purchased in 2017 for a wastewater treatment facility.

A second study was commissioned in 2018 to assess the site.

The approved $35 million will pay for the facility and parking in the project’s first phase, the city said.

The Conroe Industrial Development Corp. approved funding Dec. 8 after deferring the vote from its November meeting. Director Curt Maddux, who also serves on Conroe City Council, said concerns from staff over the center’s proximity to the new wastewater plant motivated his motion to defer.

“I’m not opposed to the Oscar Johnson; I’m actually in favor of it,” Maddux said. “I’m reserved about the location.”Perry said the center’s location in relation to the wastewater plant did not concern him due to council’s planning of the location as well as nearby neighborhoods.

“The facility needs to be in the city’s southeast quadrant, and my concerns have been put to rest after speaking with engineers,” Perry said.