POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Parks and Recreation Department took a big step forward last week with the official opening of the gym located at the Pocahontas Landmark Center.
The building itself still has some auxiliary rooms where more work needs to be done, but as of Monday, April 19, the gymnasium, the stage that overlooks it, and a training room next door are now available for use.
Mary Anne Woodel, recreation coordinator, who will be coordinating the scheduling of the facilities, said she is thrilled to see the building open and in use by parks and recreation. The first people to use the new space were the 11 individuals who showed up on April 20 to play during the first open pickleball gym time.
“I loved it. I loved seeing the building being used. Can’t you see it on my face?” she joked, pointing to her mask. “No seriously, I loved it. It was really good to see it all come together, and the citizens were so complementary. They loved the new look. They had been in here before. They said it was beautiful and they were excited to work with me.”
Elaine Willis of Powhatan was one of the pickleball players who came to the gym on its second day open for a few hours of play. She and others in the group said the renovated gym looked amazing and was a great place to play indoors. Willis said many players in her group previously had to drive to neighboring localities to play where they could.
“It is really nice. I don’t have to drive so far to play, and you can play inside when the weather is bad,” she said.
Ramona Carter, director of public works, said she is thrilled about the opportunities the new facility presents. In addition to athletic groups and individuals who may use the gym, there are opportunities for programs, performances, classes, events, and more.
“It has always been a part of Mary Anne’s goals to expand programs for seniors, for indoor athletic groups that we didn’t have in the past, and events like movie nights. We never had a facility where we could offer that,” Carter said.
The county had previously planned on opening and scheduling the gymnasium for use in December 2020, after work was completed, but COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time delayed those plans. They were further delayed when the building became a staging ground for three months for the county-led COVID-19 vaccination clinics, said Mark Piper, facilities and grounds manager.
The journey to get to this point has been a long one – a journey that started well before the first work even began on renovating the building – and has involved a huge amount of people, Piper said.
It started with the county and school leaders and staff members who made the decision that the closure of Pocahontas Middle School presented an opportunity for the parks and recreation department to have its own facility. Piper, who coordinated the project, said the coordination efforts between county and school division have been amazing.
He praised Jason Tibbs, the school division’s director of facilities, as well as the school division’s maintenance and IT departments for their work on the project. He also credited county facility maintenance and grounds and maintenance workers, who did a great deal of work on the building to make it happen.
The work done on the building was sizeable, Piper said. Before the county got the keys in October 2019, Tibbs oversaw efforts to replace the roof and put in all new LED lighting.
The Pocahontas Landmark Center’s roof replacement included the gym building, which accounted for $272,000 of the project, said Larry Johns, the school division’s assistant superintendent for finance and business operations.
But Carter said that more than anyone else, Piper is responsible for getting the gym open and bringing the project to completion under budget.
The county budgeted $380,000 for the remaining renovation of the building, but Piper helped bring it in under budget by about $80,000, Carter said. She pointed out he did that while also working on the renovation of the former school board building on Skaggs Road.
“We didn’t bid this out and have a general contractor do this all. Mark coordinated all the various vendors, which was a lot,” she said. “When you have a general contractor they put their overhead and profit on everything. By having a whole bunch of direct contractors you don’t have all that markup.”
Once Piper took over, a general cleanup of the building was followed by the ceiling of the gym being thoroughly cleaned and repainted; renovating the drop ceilings in several other areas; painting throughout the building; demolishing the boys and girls locker rooms, and reflooring various parts of the building.
The gym floor was stripped, refinished and marked with lines for basketball, pickleball, and volleyball, he said. The stage floor was refinished, the mechanical partition walls were removed, and new stage curtains were installed.
During the vaccine clinics, a floor cover was put down to protect the gym flooring, Piper said. While it is time consuming to put down, it will be a good asset when scheduling special events, he added. The county had access controls and security cameras installed. In the gym, the county brought in a new scoreboard, added two bottle refilling stations, upgraded the basketball goals, and put in new padding on the walls around the goals.
The boys’ locker room was renovated into the parks and recreation office, which includes Woodel’s office and space for employees. Currently, she has one part-time employee, but when the board of supervisors approves the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget, she hopes it includes funds to turn one of two part-time positions in her office into a full-time employee.
The former girls’ locker room may be used in the future as an exercise room, but plans for it are still in the works, Woodel said.
The former band room is now a fully renovated training room that will be an asset to both the county and residents for meeting space and programming, Carter said.
In the future, the lobby of the gym building will house a local African-American cultural arts museum.
For more information about using the gym facility, contact Woodel for scheduling and fee information. She is working on email lists for people interested in activities such as open pickleball, volleyball, and basketball sessions. Contact her at 804-598-5275 or email@example.com.
Laura McFarland may be reached at LmcFarland@powhatantoday.com.