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Porterdale Gym design could be compromised
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Because of budget constraints and newer building codes the Porterdale Gym renovation may have to include compromises differing from the original concept of a community gathering place previously approved by the Porterdale City Council.

Representatives of architectural design firm Richard Wittshiebe Hand attended Tuesday’s Porterdale council work session to discuss some new developments with the council.

The first stage of the renovation was decided as placing a roof on the building, which burned at the hands of an arsonist in 2005, and sealing and stabilizing it to prevent further deterioration.

RWH estimated the initial stage of the renovation to cost around $1.2 million.

"We understand now that you need us to look at what you could do for $440,000," said Tanya Richard of RWH at Tuesday’s work session.

Interim City Manager Frank Sherrill confirmed that the city only had that amount in the gym fund.

On top of possible compromises due to lack of funds, the original design called for implementation of a residential wooden truss system that would allow for a clear span construction, however, state building codes now prohibit the use of combustible materials in truss systems in buildings where "assembly occupancies" are expected. The total occupancy of the reconstructed gym is 486, according to Richard.

With a non-combustible material used for trusses, columns would be needed. Richard showed the council that some of the columns would be on the gym floor, if the original drawings were not modified.

Richard suggested building a junior varsity court or half court to accommodate the columns.

"I think that would go over like a lead balloon with the people who want this rebuilt," said Councilwoman Arline Chapman.

Richard then suggested installing a pre-engineered metal roof as a cost effective way to maintain a clear span construction. The cupola, a feature of the original gym, would be more difficult to place on pre-engineered metal roof without strengthening structural support.

An alternate design that placed the gym in the middle of planned meeting rooms was met unfavorably by the council because the rooms would need to be smaller and visitors would have to walk around the gym to go into some rooms, creating a foot traffic hazard.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said the council and community’s purpose for a renovated gym and community meeting place would be lost.

"I think we should take the typical American approach and say ‘we want it all,’" Chapman said.

The council reached a consensus that they wanted to maintain the original concept of a full-court gym as well as providing ample room for community gathering spaces.

Richard said funding was probably a larger snare since the council was in agreement about the design of the building.

Demolition, placing a roof on the building, second-floor steel framing and other stabilization measures in the first phase of renovation were originally estimated to cost $1.2 million. Richard said the work on the roof could be done for around $966,000, but if steel framing was done at a later date after the roof had been installed it could add more cost to the project than necessary.

Richard suggested researching potential grants to help aid the town with the renovation.

"You’ve got a wonderful story to tell," said Janice Wittshiebe of the project competing against others for grant funding.

Hamby said he would set up a meeting with Newton County Recreation Department officials to discern whether a smaller court would be ideal for their activities since Turner Lake houses regulation sized courts, as well as hammer out some more finite details in Porterdale’s partnership with them.

Sherrill suggested that money could be transferred to the gym project from the town’s transportation fund since it looked like work on the intersection of Crowell Road and Ga. Highway 81 would not start until 2011. Council members also discussed the county’s suggestion of placing the gym project on the next Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.

Richard said RWH would proceed with the council-approved design and look for the most cost effective options for construction.

"Affordable is good," said Councilman Robert Foxworth, "but cheap isn’t always best."

RWH representatives will meet with the council again to discuss design and funding options for the gym renovation at the March 25 work session.

In other Porterdale news, Downtown Manager Sandy Fowler has turned in her two weeks notice citing pursuit of other endeavors and spending more time with her family as reason for her resignation.

Also, city Public Works Director Robert Witcher brought a list of all street lights in the city to the council explaining that turning half of them off would save the city $1,200 a month in utility bills to Georgia Power. The council authorized Mayor Hamby to meet with a Georgia Power representative to advise what lights were best to eliminate.