Historic Trenton Gym, Built In ’39, Set To Reopen

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Photo courtesy of Patricia Powers.
Trenton High School’s old gym, pictured here under construction last fall, is scheduled to open in February following renovations that started in September 2015. (File photo courtesy of Patricia Powers)

Jo Smith has played basketball in only one gym.

As a guard on the Trenton High School basketball team from 1958 to 1964, she remembers both scoring and falling.

“I’ve splattered a lot of blood in that gym,” Smith said.

Now she and her classmates are among those working to preserve the memories of the building, the area’s oldest indoor gym. Their efforts include running a committee that allows alumni and community members to purchase commemorative bricks as part of the gym’s long-awaited repairs.

The gym, which has been under construction since September 2015, is scheduled to open for use in late February, said David Spencer, director of operations for Gilchrist County School District. People will be able to use the gym, even as repairs to the gym’s appearance continues.

The gym was built on the Trenton High School campus in 1939. It began to deteriorate as its use diminished in the 1970s following the construction of a new gym.

Funds to restore the old gym weren’t available until the school district received a $50,000 preservation grant in 2005 to move the gym to its current location at Trenton Elementary School, Spencer said.

But administrators soon began applying for grants again after the roof began to sag, an apparent consequence of the 1-mile move. Finally, in 2014, the gym received another grant, this one for $350,000, for the repairs, Spencer said.

Oelrich Construction Project Manager Derek Dykes, who worked on the building from August to November 2015 as one of several contractors, said the external damage was normal for a nearly 80-year-old building.

“If you just let a wood building sit there with no termite treatment, you’re going to get some rotted wood,” Dykes said. Precautions have been taken to make sure similar damage is avoided in the future, he said.

Among the building’s needs were painting, structural repairs and wood replacement.

The grant provided money for the structural work, Spencer said, but fundraisers will continue to take care of costs for more aesthetic improvements, including a room for memorabilia. Those improvements will be completed over the next few years, while the gym is open.

Construction has also given the building reinforced beams, new paint, a fire sprinkler system and new doors.

“It’s exciting to bring back that piece of history so the residents of the community can enjoy it,” Spencer said. “There’re a lot of memories here.”

For Smith, the memories go beyond sporting events in the gym.

“We had prom there, dinners there,” she said. “You name it, we’ve had it in that gym.”

The sentimental value is part of the motivation behind the $100 commemorative bricks the restoration committing is selling. The bricks, engraved with language chosen by the buyer, will line a walkway and a fountain in front of the gym.

All profits from the brick sale will go toward the engraving and installation of the bricks.

While Smith has sent three sets of bricks to be engraved, she did not know the exact amount sold or how much money had been made. More than 100 bricks were in the first set and should be finished within the next few days, she added.

“This means an awful lot to me because it’s part of our history,” Smith said. “I can walk into that gym and see every one of my classmates sitting in the stands or playing basketball.”

About Emily Cochrane

Emily is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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