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Up from the ashes
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On October 20, 2005, the city of Porterdale lost part of its identity when the Porterdale Gym was destroyed by a four-alarm blaze that left the structure in disrepair.

Currently the gym sits as a ghostly reminder of days gone by.

"I remember when championship wrestling used to come to the gym some years ago and, of course, the Harlem Globetrotters used to visit once a year," said Friends of Porterdale board member Charles Turner. "The gym was a focal point that connected the whole city."

Opened in 1938, the gym served residents of the small burgeoning mill town. During the 1940s, it was one of the largest gyms in the area and housed several large events, including high school graduations and Boy Scouts meetings. But since 2005, the gym has sat unused, waiting for its day to shine again.

That day may soon come. Recently Senator John Douglas (R-Social Circle) worked with the senate budget writers to secure a $200,000 grant to rehabilitate the structure. The city itself has also set aside another $606,000 but the project is expected to take several million dollars to complete.

According to Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox, the city still needs another $2 million. Still, that's money Fox said will go a long way.

"We are happy to get any money we can for the project, but we know it's going to be a multimillion dollar project," Fox said.

The city will continue to raise funds and ask the state for financial assistance. In the meantime, Fox said they have enough to get off to a good start.

"We have more than enough money to get the groundwork going," he said. "We will be able to hire a good architecture firm that shares our ideas and knows what we are trying to do with the building."

Fox added the city wants to keep the historical aspect of the gym in mind when they begin the rehabilitation but added any ideas of restoring the building to its condition before the fire wouldn't happen unless the state and the historical society took the project over.

"We certainly want to keep that in mind," said Fox of the building's character. "But at the same time, we know it's going to have to serve several purposes for it to be feasible."

Turner agreed with Fox and added he knows the gym would need to be a multiuse facility.

"That building could be used in so many different ways," Turner said. "People just need to think outside the box."

Fox said the city has more than $400,000 earmarked from the 2005 SPLOST fund and added the officials will again apply for state aid next year.

Turner, who has owned property in Porterdale for several years, says too many people have the wrong attitude toward the gym and the city itself. He hopes more people will look to the future and less at the past.

"I'm tired of hearing people saying Porterdale won't work," he said. "I know the city can grow. I want everyone to look at it that way. Stop dwelling on the past and work together for tomorrow."

The city council is set to vote to accept one of three bids they've received at the monthly city council meeting on July 7.

"We'll come up with a good cost estimate and we can tell from our public feedback, what type of uses we need from the community," Fox said. "We've received some good bids and we should be ready to do a thorough assessment after we vote on a bid."

Douglas too plans to be at the meeting to present the check to the city for the recently raised funds.

"The gym has always been the center of life in Porterdale," Douglas said. "It's the one thing that is holding the city back right now as they continue to grow."

Turner is excited with the future and thinks it is just a matter of time before Porterdale gets back a missing piece of its community.

"The gym is a very big part of the city and is important to the future of our community," Turner said. "If we spend the money to get the building back, we have to make sure we have people willing to work it and use it."