by Billy Bruce
VALDOSTA ó It looks more like a modern civic arena or a state-of-the-art facility on a college campus than it does a high school gymnasium. But that's what Lowndes High School officials cut the ribbon on Sunday ó a brand new $8 million gymnasium.
Several Lowndes High and Lowndes Board of Education officials joined a few hundred parents and students at the new gymnasium to tour the 49,549 square foot building, it's shiny, sparkling wooden basketball court, modern surround scoreboard, the building's five classrooms and other features of the building.
Inside the gym, the word "Vikings" is spelled out in humongous letters on a giant wall of retractable seats. Missing at the Sunday ceremony but soon to arrive is the sculpted head of a Viking mascot to adorn the building's two-story outer facade over the main entrance.
"This is something that has been a dream of many residents for a long time,"ù said Lowndes Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Smith prior to the 2 p.m. dedication ceremony. "This will be a landmark, not just for Lowndes High School, but for the entire community. It is a testament to the education of the whole child. There'll be a lot more than basketball games happening here."
Band concerts, classroom activities community events and more will enjoy a new home in the multi-purpose facility, Smith and other officials said.
"his gym is the crowning piece of all the renovations we've done at Lowndes in recent years,"ù Lowndes High Principal Wes Taylor said before he and other guests cut the ceremonial red ribbon under a hot, early afternoon sun on the three-tiered stairway leading to the unique second floor entrance into the gym ó a feature common in modern gymnasiums according to one of the building's architects.
"We're also celebrating the completion of the new traffic entrance to the high school on Norman drive, the renovation and redesign of the main parking lot on the campus and a refocus of the true, main entrance to Lowndes High offices,"ù Taylor explained.
Former students and parents used to have problems figuring out that the original main building entrance to the high school that was used for years after the school opened in 1966 is no longer the main entrance. But a more centrally located office entrance, finished five years ago, is now easily found by looking in the middle at the covered portico, the construction of which also was celebrated Sunday.
The new traffic entrance on Norman makes movement much safer for parents, students and visitors. It brings arrivals directly to the new gymnasium, then swings them left to the main portico where main offices are located, Taylor said.
"The new, covered portico provides a clearer definition of the main entrance, provides cover for parents dropping off students when the weather is bad, and the new front entrance from Norman facilitates a much safer and smoother traffic pattern for our parents and students," Taylor said.
One observer's remark that the growing Lowndes appears more and more as that of a college campus is a common observation,"ù Taylor noted. "That is a common comment I hear often,"ù he said.
The former gym is still available for multi-uses. It seats approximately 1,600, while the new gym seats approximately 3,056.
"The old gym was really noisy. You could hardly hear yourself think,"ù said Mike Powers, executive director of facilities for Lowndes County Schools. "With the new gym, you don't have the sound issues because it's so open and so well designed. This is a first rate facility, not just for the school system, not just for the high school, but for the entire community."ù
The new gym is just as important of a landmark for motorists traveling I-75 as is the school's football stadium, said Philip Poole, vice chairman of the Lowndes County School Board. Poole joined other officials in thanking Lowndes County voters for supporting SPLOST II, which provided the sales tax revenues to pay for the new gym.
"The citizens' support for SPLOST II made this possible,"Poole said. "Wer'e very proud of the results. This is a facility that is much needed with the rapid growth and development that is occurring in Lowndes County. We are fortunate to be able to generate revenues from a sales tax to pay for these types of facilities."
Brett McIver, an architect with Manley Spangler Smith Architects, the firm that designed the gym, was busy taking photographs of the new arena.
"A contractor recently told me why he believes high schools are so important,"ù McIver said. "Everyone remembers their high school. The buildings. The campus. The life lessons learned there and the memories created there. That's the perspective the contractors who built the gym and the entrance improvements had when they did this work, and it's apparent. This is a beautiful building."
JCI Construction of Moultrie built the gym and Rountree Construction of Valdosta built the new entrance on Norman and the new parking lot and portico.
"A lot of accolades will be thrown around here today," McIver summarized, "but I think the biggest accolades belong to the people of Lowndes County and the (Lowndes) Board of Education, because it takes a lot of foresight and vision to make something like this happen."