Porterdale gym: Architects offer 4 layout options

PORTERDALE - The architectural firm hired by the city to restore the burned out Porter Memorial Gymnasium presented four layout options to the City Council at a work session Thursday night at City Hall.

Janice Wittschiebe, a principal with the firm of Richard Wittschiebe Hand of Atlanta, told the council and about half a dozen residents that both structural and architectural assessments of the building have been completed. She said that seismic testing of the building's exterior brick walls indicates that they are structurally sound and can be used as part of the restoration.

The firm has also conducted visioning workshops with town residents and interviewed both current and former residents of Porterdale. Based on those discussions,

project manager Tanya Richard said one common theme emerged. "People said 'We want it rebuilt just like it was, and we want it to be a community center,'" she said.

All four designs presented Thursday night featured a basketball court as the central characteristic of the project. Other features included 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.

Newton County Recreation Department Director Tommy Hailey, who is a native of Porterdale and is working with Richard Wittschiebe Hand on renovation of the old Cousins Gym in Covington, suggested that the City Council meet with Newton County Recreation Commission members and county officials to see if there is a possibility of forming a partnership that would make funding for the project available through a future special purpose local option sales tax.

Councilman Mike Harper reminded those present that Porterdale has limited funds for the renovation project. He suggested keeping the basketball court, restrooms and locker rooms as part of the renovation but using the other space for city offices. The city could then tear down its existing City Hall and Police Department, which are located across Broad Street from the gym, and sell that property to help finance the project.

"This way we could get it built before it sits there another four years," he said.

Walter Davis, who developed the Porterdale Mill Lofts in a former textile mill building in Porterdale, said he would rather the city focus the project on the gymnasium and banquet facilities - not a city hall. He agreed that it would benefit the project if the city and county could work out a partnership for funding and use of the facility.

"I think it would be a huge benefit for Porterdale for the Recreation Department to be feeding their people over here," Davis said.

Davis added that the Recreation Department has more experience at generating funds for the renovation and operation of the gym.

"If we make the whole thing a recreation facility, it could be a gem for the whole county," he said.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said the city needs to decide on a plan for the gym before anything else can be done. He also said the city would need to meet with the Recreation Commission, the Board of Commissioners and others to determine if partnerships are an option.

City Council members agreed to study the four proposals presented Thursday and meet with Richard Wittschiebe Hand again in about a month.

Porter Memorial Gymnasium was gutted by a fire that left the gym's exterior brick walls standing, but nothing remaining of the interior. 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. 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.