COVINGTON -- The Newton County Recreation Commission preserved a part of local history with the renovation of the historic R.L. Cousins Gymnasium. Now, that success story is being recognized on the national level.
The Recreation Commission recently received the Historical/Cultural Facility Award from the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials in recognition of the renovation of the facility, now known as Wolverine Gym. The Wolverine was the mascot for Cousins High School, which served the black student population of Newton County from 1957 through the 1960s.
In the early '70s, the schools were integrated, and Cousins was converted to a middle school. In 1999, it was closed when the new Cousins Middle School opened nearby.
The gym sat empty and unused for years. There was talk of tearing it down and putting up apartments. The Arnold Fund stepped in and purchased the property, converting the school into the Cousins Community Center, where various local organizations are now housed, and an effort began to salvage the football field and gym.
Wolverine Field was completed and, after about six years of hard work and patience as funding trickled in, the gym opened last January. The $750,000 renovation was funded through $500,000 in SPLOST revenue and a $250,000 grant from the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation.
Original estimates put the renovation cost at $1.7 million, but there weren't enough funds, so the Recreation Commission and members of the Cousins Community Center board of directors set out to find a way to bring the cost down.
"We shopped around," said Cousins board member Denny Dobbs, who said the majority of the work was done by local contractors who were generous with their pricing.
"Everybody involved was aware that this was a community project that was going to be for the recreation department, so everybody sharpened their pencils and did what they could do," he said.
Cost-saving measures included stabilizing and sealing the existing roof rather than installing a new one, purchasing several small commercial air conditioning units rather than one large unit and keeping many of the original features of the building. The original bleachers were refurbished, and the locker and shower rooms have been converted into climate-controlled storage rooms for baseball and football equipment.
The gym is being used during basketball season and as the physical education facility for Challenge Charter Academy, located next door at the Cousins Community Center. The academy is providing janitorial services in exchange for use of the building.
"I think it's great. I think it's beautiful. If you had to build this gym today as it is with bricks and mortar, it would cost between $2 million and $2.5 million. With the pressure on Turner Lake and Conyers Street Gym, it can handle the overflow. As long as it's used for recreation, that's what we want to do," Dobbs said.