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Porterdale's gym funds cut from state budget

PORTERDALE - A $200,000 allocation by the Georgia General Assembly for restoration of Porterdale's historic gym has vanished, another victim of the struggling economy.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said at a Tuesday work session that the city was recently notified that the allocation for Porter Memorial Gymnasium had been cut due to the state budget shortfall. The funding was announced last spring.

Hamby said the town had submitted the paperwork required to receive the funds, but the money had never been received.

State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, said he learned at last Monday's City Council meeting that the allocation had been cut.

"The only thing I can ascertain is that it was part of the (state) budget-tightening process," Douglas said Wednesday. "We cut almost $3 billion out of the budget; unfortunately, it looks like the $200,000 helped in that process."

Douglas said the money was appropriated in the 2008 General Assembly and was not cut by the governor in a line-item veto. He surmised that the funding was cut during this year's budget adjustments that were necessary to balance the 2009 budget.

"It is disappointing, but there is a lot of disappointment with the budget this year," Douglas said. "We'll try to get them some money back when the economy improves."

The Porter Gymnasium, which was constructed in 1938, was gutted by fire in October 2005. The fire was determined by the state Fire Marshal's Office to be arson, but no one has been arrested in connection with the blaze. 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 destroyed, including old city records and all the city's Christmas decorations.

The city has spent $20,000 acquired through a state Department of Community Affairs grant to pay for the first phase of work to restore the gym by architects Richard Wittschiebe Hand of Atlanta that will be done in three phases. The first phase, which includes working with the community to determine how the building will be used, creating a written program of uses and producing a written assessment of the current condition of the building, is nearly completed.

The architectural firm has presented four layout options for renovation of the gym. All four designs feature a basketball court as the central characteristic of the project. Other features include a second-floor walkway overlooking the basketball court, a movable performance stage, training rooms, meeting rooms, a small banquet room and warming kitchen and exercise rooms.

City Manager Tom Fox said the city has paid $19,484 to the architects.

"We are right at the limit," Fox said. "We are expecting two more meetings with the architects ... then we will have to make the decision to go to the next step. Unfortunately, we're not going to get that $200,000 we were hoping for."

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