Izard County High School gym project nears completion

Sunday, January 22, 2012
Izard County High School basketball players try to concentrate on practice, as construction workers install wall covering to tie a new end zone seating area into the existing gymnasium. After more than six months of work, a $1.2 million dollar project to expand and modernize the gym is nearing completion. Photo by Richard Irby

If you've ever lived in a house while it was being remodeled, you know how Izard County High School Principal David Harmon feels after seven months of "living" with construction workers.

"I can't wait until they are finished," Harmon said. "It's been difficult at times, because of noise and dust and other issues."

Harmon, who is also the school's boys basketball coach, said holding basketball practices in a construction zone has been tricky.
"I'm proud of the kids," said Harmon. "They have adjusted well and overcome the challenges, and concentrated on their mission."

The good news is, the $1.2 million dollar project to expand and remodel the school's gymnasium, and add space for the agriculture program is winding down.

"We've been involved in a multi-year program to upgrade our schools, and we saved the gymnasium project for last," ICC Superintendent Fred Walker told The News. "Work began in June with the removal of the (east) gym wall."

The project, which is being financed by a zero percent interest stimulus loan, upgrades the gym - built in 1987 - for decades more use.

The east wall was removed so the gymnasium could be expanded. A new end zone seating area, which is being added, will create 450 additional bleacher seats, with space underneath the seats used for new dressing rooms for the senior boys and girls teams. A weight room, and a dressing room for referees is also included, with the referee area doubling as a "film room," for coaches and players to look at video of past games and coming opponents.

One other amenity is the addition of 100 chair-back seats in the two middle sections on the "home" side of the gym. "Most other schools now have some chair-back seats and we wanted to add some," said Walker.

By the time the new school year began last August, a temporary wooden wall had been installed, so that crews could work on the addition without interfering with gym activities. "After our last home basketball game on Dec. 16, the temporary wall was removed so the addition could be completed," Walker said. Since then, students and workers have not been separated, and co-existing has been more difficult.

But, by Jan. 21, when the school hosts the Izard County basketball tournament, the end zone seating and the new restrooms are to be finished.

If all goes well, the whole project will be completed by Feb. 22, when the school will host a state regional tournament, which was awarded recently by the Arkansas Activities Association.

"We were the only school that bid on the regional. Eight girls and eight boys teams from north central and northeast Arkansas will be here," Walker, who is an association board member.

Because the gym has been able to seat 1,000 fans comfortably, the school already qualified to host regional tournaments but, because of limited dressing room space, it was difficult. The two new dressing rooms will make it easier to host regionals.

"Referees will appreciate the changes the most," said Walker. "During a regional tournament, seven referees work the games, and they've been jammed into a small room. They will now have a big room with a bathroom and shower."

By expanding total seating to 1,500, Izard County can also seek to host state finals.

"One benefit of the gym project will be a positive economic impact for the area, as we host tournaments," Walker explained. "Teams and their fans come from all over, so they will bring business to Melbourne and Izard County. We will be able to give a boost to the local economy."

The gymnasium improvements will have benefits for all students, not just athletes. Replacing a cramped weight room with a spacious one will allow the school to offer weight training classes to any interested student.

In addition, the gym expansion has also created space for a much larger workshop for the agriculture program. The room will include individual welding booths for students to use.

"We have one of the best agriculture programs around," said Walker. "Mr. Neal (Ag teacher Wayne Neal) does a great job, and our students have won all kids of awards. The additional workshop space will just make things that much better."

The superintendent is glad to see construction winding down, and he credits two state legislators with helping solve a problem that delayed the start of the project.

"Construction was delayed by two months because the state fire marshal's office would not approve the construction plan," Walker said.

The problem was, the fire marshal wanted the project to include a sprinkler system.

Walker said the $232,000 cost for sprinklers would not make the project feasible, and sprinklers are usually required for new school buildings, not remodeling projects.

"Our State Representative Tommy Wren and our State Senator Missy Irvin worked with us to convince the fire marshal's office that sprinklers should not be required for this project," said Walker. "We really appreciate their efforts, so work could get underway.

At a boy's team practice, player Cody Faulkner said the expanded gym will add to the excitement of Izard County basketball.

"There will be more people in here yelling," said Faulkner. "It's going to be great."

Principal and Coach Harmon agrees.

"This is going to be a very, very nice facility - one the community can be proud of for years to come," said Harmon. This gym will be as good as any Class A gym in the state."

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