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Parts of historic Hemphill ISD gym being preserved for new middle school

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 11:47 AM CDT
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HEMPHILL, Texas (KTRE) - A structure built during the Great Depression is coming down in one East Texas town. While there was no historic designation for the building, officials there said it will have a new purpose. KTRE’s Jeremy Thomas explains.

If these walls could talk, they’d have countless stories to tell. Just ask local genealogist and historian Weldon McDaniel, who graduated from Hemphill High School in 1957.

“You’re just looking at thousands and thousands of school kids that used that gym, had PE classes in there,” McDaniel said. “Of course, when I graduated high school, that’s where our high school graduation was - in that gym. My 8th-grade graduation was in that gym. Lots of memories in there.”

Now piece-by-piece, the first gymnasium for Hemphill ISD is coming down.

“The gym itself was condemned for several years, and so we were not able to use it anymore,” said Hemphill ISD Superintendent Reese Briggs.

Due to water infiltration in the basement and a variety of other issues, the gymnasium was condemned close to 10 years ago.

The gym was built in 1936. It has not only served the school district here in Hemphill, but the community at large. Now, changes are on the way.

“The decision was made to repurpose parts of the gym,” Briggs said. “What we’re planning is to put a middle school and a face on our middle school back here.”

Briggs said pieces of the Works Progress Administration building, some made from long-leaf pines, are being preserved for the new facility.

“What we’re doing is extracting some of the trusses and those are going to be placed in the entryway so that generations can enjoy that structure,” he explained. “We also looking at repurposing bleachers and some of the flooring and even some of the brick to incorporate into the new structure as well.”

Officials estimate that the project will take up to three years at no cost to taxpayers. Briggs said the project is being paid for by the district’s fund balance.

“We’re estimating right now, of course, costs are crazy in the construction world, but we’re estimating a cost in the $4 to $5 million range for this particular project,” Briggs said. “There’s no need for a tax election or bond election. All monies are reserved in the fund balance.”

“I don’t want to see the gym torn down, but it became a liability,” McDaniel said.

“We understand there is emotion there,” Briggs said. “We want to carefully preserve the memory as much as possible and bring them forward with us.”

Briggs said in the coming weeks, a Facebook page dedicated to the project will be created for the community to check in on its progress.

Additionally, some materials will be used to create commemorative pocketknives which will be sold by student groups so people can own part of the history of The Old Gym.

In the video below, you can hear McDaniel, recount one of his favorite memories of the gym.

Jeremy Thomas was also on East Texas Now showing part of the demolition work going on Tuesday along with a few memories of his own going to Hemphill ISD and the gymnasium in the video below.

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