Chelsea explores new design for potential second gym at ChHS

Published 6:47 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Managing Editor 

CHELSEA – The Chelsea City Council received a new design for a second gym at Chelsea High School and discussed the pros and cons of the project during a pre-council meeting on Tuesday, June 18.

During the meeting, Shelby County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Operations David Calhoun answered the Council’s questions on a new preliminary design for a potential second gymnasium at Chelsea High School.

“The gym project is something that was talked about once upon a time and then it kind of got shelved for a while and now it has come back up,” Calhoun said.

For the new design, the architect has completely removed the second floor that was planned for the gymnasium in order to reduce the cost of the project. The total square footage for the new version of the project is 36,000 square feet and would offer a capacity of more than 2,000 which is larger than the 1,800 found in the current gym.

“When we sat down with the architect to try to come up with a design, the purpose was to try to attend to those needs that were communicated from the local coaches there at the school and that’s what we feel like we’ve accomplished in this concept drawing,” Calhoun said.

Additionally, the drawing offers six additional lock roomers for students to utilize as well as a multipurpose space for the wrestling team, cheerleaders or for fall activity groups to take advantage of. There is also a design for a concession stand attached the gym that is reversible and would allow workers to service customers on the inside of the space or outside.

Calhoun also highlighted that the potential offerings in the space would also benefit Chelsea Middle School—supplying it with a better space for its sports programs to perform at.

“If we think about a majority of middle schools around this state, most of (them) use the high school venues for their athletic events,” Calhoun said. “So, if there were to be a possible avenue whereby the city could be a partner on this project, there’s no reason why the middle school couldn’t use one of these gyms at the high school when they’re playing their games.”

Calhoun was not able to provide the Council with a complete cost breakdown for the new designs for the project but shared that—based upon the Chelsea Park Elementary School Gym bidding at $338 a square foot in 2023—the new designs could cost around $12.5 million.

Chelsea Mayor Tony Picklesimer said that the city has already budgeted for the potential project by utilizing a portion of the city’s one cent sales tax fund.

The Shelby County Schools Board of Education is willing to partner with the city on the project and is offering to pay for fees, architecture and engineering which normally amounts to 10 percent of the project. Calhoun shared that SCS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Brooks is also willing for SCS to help with an additional amount toward the project should the city be interested.

Chelsea High School Principal Dr. Brandon Turner was present during the pre-council meeting and expressed to the council how he believes the project could benefit students.

“We’ve done some really great things but I’ll be honest, I think that this particular facility, it may reach the largest number of students of anything that we’ve done,” Turner said.

Turner said that some might criticize the project and ask why the schools needs a second gym but he shared that a lot of high schools the size of Chelsea have an auxiliary space.

“This would really be a great assistance in basketball, volleyball, wrestling, cheer and auxiliary probably to the greatest extent,” Turner said.

ChHS Athletic Director Michael Stallings also attended the meeting and shared his opinion on the potential project and described it as “transformational.”

“It checks so many of the boxes that we need to check,” Stallings said. “This could put everybody on a much better schedule. This could allow us to host more than one event.”

Once concern with the project expressed during the meeting was the potential need for a new middle school in the future which could be difficult given the amount of funding the new gymnasium would require.

“We passed the money in this year’s budget to fund our portion of this project,” Picklesimer said. “But if we execute that budget then we’re tying up just under half of our school revenue for a term of 15 years minimum. And so, if a new middle school was built and then that new middle school needs athletic facilities then there is not any room left in our budget.”

Calhoun shared that, based upon current information and student population trends at Chelsea, he doesn’t believe that the current middle school will reach capacity soon.

“Historically speaking, it would take a school a good amount of time to gain 400 kids in three grades,” Calhoun said.

Councilmember Christopher Grace expressed concerns over parking at Chelsea High School given the potential of adding a capacity of 2,000 seats at the new gym.

“Under the current parking lot that is being constructed, there’s going to be more parking even if this project were to become a reality,” Calhoun said.

Before closing out the discussion on the potential new gym, Picklesimer expressed his enthusiasm for the work the current City Council has done to improve the city’s schools.

“When you think about what this Council and what this group of people have done in the last seven years for all four of our schools, it is big numbers—it’s well over eight digits,” Picklesimer said. “We love our school and we put our money where our mouth was in doing these things.”