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Dearing sets plans for gymnasium renovation grant

Old-Timers and not-so-old-timers in Dearing now have the assurance that their elementary PE class memories will be preserved for a long time. Last Thursday morning, the town held a public hearing for the Community Development Block Grant to rehabilitate the Dearing Gymnasium.

"We actually had people here; this is very atypical (for a grant hearing). It was great," said Rhonda Gilbert, the president of Gilbert and Associates, Inc.

In addition to Ms. Gilbert, who was the author of the grant, other officials on hand at the Town Hall to field questions and explain the procedure were Brent Allen, the program representative of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs that supplied the grant and Jerry Dennis, the project manager of Precision Planning, Inc., the architect for the project.

The $500,000 grant will be used to refinish the floor, reroof the entire structure, repair the trim work on the exterior and either restore or replace the windows. Some changes will be made to bring the building up to the American Disability Association code requirements, and all work will be approved by the Historic Preservation Division.

A 600 square foot community room will be added on the side of the building that will be modernized, but will compliment the historical character, Mr. Dennis said.

Under the guidelines, the size of the gym floor must remain the same, but new bleachers will be added. Mr. Dennis said the plans at the moment use retractable bleachers, but that could change as the design develops with the preservation division.

The storage rooms in the rear of the building will be converted to two public restrooms, a utility room and a storage room.

"We are not going to completely restore this building, we are just renovating it while staying in the original character of the building," Mr. Dennis said.

He also explained that the floor plan and design had to be submitted with the application for the grant, and therefore must be adhered to, with the exception of conforming to the historic preservation and ADA guidelines.

Other conditions of the grant require the building be used for 20 years to help the underprivileged in the area. Mayor Sean Kelley and the Dearing City Council members worked on all the requirements, conducting phone interviews and polls to show the gym will be used for teaching English as a second language classes, basketball camps for the Boys and Girls Club, GED classes and senior citizen exercise programs.

The facility may also be used for recreational and community events, but the top priority in scheduling must be the programs listed above.

Funds for the grant are provided through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and filtered through the GDCA. During the meeting, Mr. Allen said he appreciated the hard work and excitement of the Mayor and citizens.

"Our department received 200 applications (for grants) last year, and only 66 could be funded," he said. "So this grant is hard to get."

Currently underway is the environmental review and historic assessment. Contractor bidding is scheduled for late summer, 2007, and completion of the renovation is scheduled for September 2008.

Mr. Allen also asked the Mayor to appoint a local inspector to unofficially report to the GDCA on the condition of the building after it is in use.

Andy Rodgers agreed to be that inspector. Mayor Kelley said "Andy has been the one taking care of the building all along anyway, so I trust him."

When combining the grant funds with proceeds from the Dearing Mayfest and County allocations, Mayor Kelley said the total amount available for the project is $700,000.

Web posted on Thursday, October 19, 2006

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