save old gym

High school principal says county is ‘gym poor,’ could use the extra space for practices

A request to save the gym and front classroom of the old Pierce County High School was presented to the Board of Education last Thursday morning, but no action was taken on the proposal.

PCHS principal Kelly Murray made the request during an overall report to the board at their first work session of the new year last Thursday morning. Murray also made a presentation on the high school’s football stadium and baseball field. (See related story.)

Murray’s proposal is the first official request asking the board to salvage the old high school.

Murray requested the board consider saving the gym for use as a practice facility for football, wrestling, cheerleading and other programs. He also asked the board to consider utilizing the front classroom there as the site of Gateway, the high school’s alternative school.

“We are gym poor in the county,” Murray pointed out.

He noted that only the high school and middle school have gyms. All three elementary schools have multi-purpose rooms that serve both as auditoriums and for physical education.

“During storm season in South Georgia, we have a need for indoor space for practices,” he said. “With all of the athletic programs we have, we can use the space.”

Murray notes during basketball season, the school has often used the county’s gym on College Avenue as well as occasionally using space provided by First Baptist Church and Blackshear Church of God at their facilities.

Murray also advocated converting the classrooms at the front of the old PCHS gymnasium for the new location of the Gateway program.

“Currently, the Gateway program is located behind the old high school in an aging mobile unit,” he said. “I can’t even see it from the new high school. From a safety standpoint, it would be better if we could move it to the gym classroom.”

Murray said the remainder of the building can be demolished. He says the space can be maintained as a grassy area and used for parking, which he notes is in short supply at football games.

The school board has discussed the fate of the old high school for a solid year. The fate of the old school was first discussed at the January 2020 school board meeting.

The board has been divided on what to do with the school since that time.

Second district representative Mitch Hall and third district representative Chip Griner had advocated a go slow approach on the decision, while former first district representative Jack Saussy had been adamant that the old high school be torn down.

SP Design of Macon, the system’s architect, was asked by the board for projected costs on options for saving the building and tearing it down.

The first proposed option was to tear down the building at a cost of between $530,000 and $708,000. The block and concrete would be sold to offset costs.

The second proposal was to save the gym, the concession area and the administration area of the old school at a cost of $3,361,689.

A total of $1.1 million for demolition of the old PCHS was included in the construction budget for the new high school. The additional $2.2 million needed to make the improvements and salvage the building will have to come from local funds. The school system no longer receives state funding for its upkeep.

Since the old school was closed in January of last year, the board has spent over $100,000 on just minimal upkeep of the building.