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Porterdale history resurrected
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History will soon be reconstructed in Porterdale.

When a fire caught the Porterdale Gymnasium ablaze on Oct. 20, 2005, the walls and center of the roof started to collapse into the facility, destroying what many have come to regard as a center of community activity.

In the first or second week of January, demolition crews will begin to clear the way for a new era in the historic building.

After the fire, the city of Porterdale gathered to figure out a way to bring back the historic building. According to quotes for different construction projects, a complete rebuild of the entire gym would have been $4.1 million - way too much for Porterdale to spend.

The solution was an adaptive-use project, using the four walls as a shell for a venue inside an enclosed courtyard to be used for different venues, such as weddings, receptions, picnics, reunions and concerts. The project's $950,000 cost is being paid for entirely by proceeds from SPLOST, and is expected to be completed around May.

"The folks who grew up here are happy that something is going to happen," said Bob Thomson, Porterdale city manager. "It was considered the heart of the community. It was the focus of the community with Christmas concerts, basketball games and you name it. A lot of the children's lives revolved around the gym."

The space was designed by the Architectural team of Lominack, Kohl and Smith with lead architect Jerry Lominack out of Savannah providing the finalized design. The firm has done several historic renovations in the Savannah area, including the Trinity United Methodist Church, the Huston Dairy Barn, Dunlevie House, St. Catherine's Horse Barn, Skidaway Cabin and Pin Point Heritage Museum.

"They're doing what the people want and folks outside of the community as well," Thomson said. "It was a shock and heartbreak when it burned in 2005. The people who remember are happy something is being done."

According to the Nov. 24, 1938 article in The Covington News, "New Gymnasium At Porterdale To Be Dedicated" the building was a gift to the citizens of Porterdale by James H. Porter "in honor of his illustrious father Mr. O.S. Porter, the founder of Porterdale."

It was constructed at a cost of approximately $50,000 and designed by Ellamae Ellis League and hosted its first basketball game on Dec. 3, 1938.

"It was considered the heart of the community, built in 1938 and designed by a female architect, which was very rare back then," Thomson said.

That heart of the community was extinguished when "flames burst through windows and ravaged both steel and wood inside the Porterdale gymnasium," according to the article "Decades of history feared lost forever in Porterdale blaze" published in The Covington News on Oct. 23, 2005.

Even though a $10,000 reward was offered after the incident, the cause of the fire was never discovered.

But now the building will continue to live on with a new use aimed at bringing the members of the Porterdale community together.

"People are very pleased with what the mayor and council ended up doing, making sure the walls don't cave in and the appearance of the gym is maintained," Thomson said.