Council hears final presentation for gym restoration

PORTERDALE - City Council members heard a presentation from architect Jack Pyburn of Lord Aek Sargent Architecture in Atlanta at the July 1 work session, the third and final presentation from firms seeking to be selected for the Porter Memorial Gymnasium restoration project.

Two other candidate firms, Houser Walker Architecture and Richard Wittschiebe Hand Architecture Interiors Planning, both of Atlanta, made presentations to the council June 10.

Pyburn recently completed work on the restoration of the Porterdale depot and was also involved in the restoration of the Newton County Historic Courthouse. Pyburn was enlisted two years ago to conduct the initial structural assessment of the gym after it was gutted by fire. The fire left the gym's exterior brick walls standing, but nothing remains of the interior.

Pyburn told the council Tuesday his firm has found some of the original design drawings of the gym, which was designed by Macon architect Ellamae Ellis League.

"She's very special and this is one of her important buildings," Pyburn said.

Pyburn said the gym, built in 1938, has some modern construction components, including steel support beams that are holding up the masonry walls of the gym. The gym roof was also supported by steel pipe columns, rather than the brick walls, he said.

Pyburn said his firm will approach the project by working to understand the construction of the building, the condition of the building and how the community plans to use the building in the future. Future uses will then be used to pinpoint alternative plans for restoration. Cost considerations will help define how the project will be implemented, he said.

Pyburn said his firm will hold meetings to establish future uses for the gym - how many meetings can be determined by the city. Pyburn said it is important that people have the opportunity to participate in the process. "We want it to be done in a way that it will be successful," he said.

Porterdale council members have said in the past that limited funds require the restoration be done in phases. The city has about $850,000 to begin the project.

Pyburn said phased restoration can increase costs if the phases are not carefully planned. The critical part of the process, he said, "is in setting up the phases and finding the logical breakpoints."

The Porterdale Gym was built as a gift to the city from Oliver and Julia Porter, the owners of Bibb Manufacturing Company. The facility was built with wood floors and wood bleachers that could seat as many as 5,000 people, by some accounts. The structure was vacant at the time of the blaze, and most of the contents were destroyed, including old city records and all of the city's Christmas decorations.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@rockdalecitizen.com.