Por­terdale his­tory res­ur­rected

The Covington News - - SPORTS - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

His­tory will soon be re­con­structed in Por­terdale.

When a fire caught the Por­terdale Gym­na­sium ablaze on Oct. 20, 2005, the walls and cen­ter of the roof started to col­lapse into the fa­cil­ity, de­stroy­ing what many have come to re­gard as a cen­ter of com­mu­nity ac­tiv­ity.

In the first or sec­ond week of Jan­uary, de­mo­li­tion crews will be­gin to clear the way for a new era in the his­toric build­ing.

Af­ter the fire, the city of Por­terdale gath­ered to fig­ure out a way to bring back the his­toric build­ing. Ac­cord­ing to quotes for dif­fer­ent con­struc­tion projects, a com­plete re­build of the en­tire gym would have been $4.1 mil­lion — way too much for Por­terdale to spend.

The so­lu­tion was an adap­tive-use project, us­ing the four walls as a shell for a venue in­side an en­closed court­yard to be used for dif­fer­ent venues, such as wed­dings, re­cep­tions, pic­nics, re­unions and con­certs. The project’s $950,000 cost is be-

ing paid for en­tirely by pro­ceeds from SPLOST, and is ex­pected to be com­pleted around May.

“The folks who grew up here are happy that some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen,” said Bob Thom­son, Por­terdale city man­ager. “It was con­sid­ered the heart of the com­mu­nity. It was the fo­cus of the com­mu­nity with Christ­mas con­certs, bas­ket­ball games and you name it. A lot of the chil­dren’s lives re­volved around the gym.”

The space was de­signed by the Ar­chi­tec­tural team of Lom­i­nack, Kohl and Smith with lead ar­chi­tect Jerry Lom­i­nack out of Sa­van­nah pro­vid­ing the fi­nal­ized de­sign. The firm has done sev­eral his­toric ren­o­va­tions in the Sa­van­nah area, in­clud­ing the Trin­ity United Methodist Church, the Hus­ton Dairy Barn, Dun­le­vie House, St. Cather­ine’s Horse Barn, Ski­d­away Cabin and Pin Point Her­itage Mu­seum.

“They’re do­ing what the peo­ple want and folks out­side of the com­mu­nity as well,” Thom­son said. “It was a shock and heart­break when it burned in 2005. The peo­ple who re­mem­ber are happy some­thing is be­ing done.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Nov. 24, 1938 ar­ti­cle in The Cov­ing­ton News, “New Gym­na­sium At Por­terdale To Be Ded­i­cated” the build­ing was a gift to the ci­ti­zens of Por­terdale by James H. Porter “in honor of his il­lus­tri­ous fa­ther Mr. O.S. Porter, the founder of Por­terdale.”

It was con­structed at a cost of ap­prox­i­mately $50,000 and de­signed by El­la­mae El­lis League and hosted its first bas­ket­ball game on Dec. 3, 1938.

“It was con­sid­ered the heart of the com­mu­nity, built in 1938 and de- signed by a fe­male ar­chi­tect, which was very rare back then,” Thom­son said.

That heart of the com­mu­nity was ex­tin­guished when “flames burst through win­dows and rav­aged both steel and wood in­side the Por­terdale gym­na­sium,” ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cle “Decades of his­tory feared lost for­ever in Por­terdale blaze” pub­lished in The Cov­ing­ton News on Oct. 23, 2005.

Even though a $10,000 re­ward was of­fered af­ter the in­ci­dent, the cause of the fire was never dis­cov­ered.

But now the build­ing will con­tinue to live on with a new use aimed at bring­ing the mem­bers of the Por­terdale com­mu­nity to­gether.

“Peo­ple are very pleased with what the mayor and coun­cil ended up do­ing, mak­ing sure the walls don’t cave in and the ap­pear­ance of the gym is main­tained,” Thom­son said.

Submitted Photo /Lom­i­nack Kol­man Smith Ar­chi­tects /The Cov­ing­ton News

Ren­der­ings of the ren­o­vated Por­terdale Gym­na­sium show the outer fa­cade will re­main close to what it looked like upon its orig­i­nal con­struc­tion in 1938 and what it will look like upon com­ple­tion as a court­yard and meet­ing space.

Submitted Photo /Lom­i­nack Kol­man Smith Ar­chi­tects /The Cov­ing­ton News

A top-cut view of the Por­terdale Gym’s new court­yard use, which keeps the pre­vi­ous shell of the build­ing while adding new meet­ing spa­ces in the in­te­rior.

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