By John R. Schirmer
LOCKESBURG – Shortly after 12 noon on Saturday, the horn sounded in the 1952 Lockesburg Gym. This time, it wasn’t signaling the start of a Blue Darter or Lady Darter game. Instead, the horn marked a new era for the venerable facility as the gym opened to the public for the first time in decades.
The re-opening marked the completion of a restoration program by the University of Arkansas-Cossatot. The college secured grants, local donations and lots of volunteers to help with the project.
Saturday, it all paid off.
“There’s a lot of pride, a lot of emotion in here today,” Cossatot Chancellor Dr. Steve Cole told the crowd which had gathered for open house and a chance to reminisce about the gym.
“It took a lot of people to make it happen,” said Cole, a Lockesburg alumnus who became emotional himself while talking about the gym.
“Four years ago, Mike Kinkade and I walked around, looking at the old building. We knew it had life,” Cole said.
UA-C acquired the gym, the old high school building and nine acres of land around them and began planning the restoration project. Cole obtained a $175,000 grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Commission, and donations came in from those interested in the gym.
Cossatot provides “access to higher education in Southwest Arkansas,” Cole said. The college’s role in the gym project is “preserving our heritage. I’ve worked in restoring old things in Arkansas. Mike and I looked at this gym and said we had to do this.”
With the restoration complete, Cossatot plans to make the gym available to the community.
“This is not a closed museum; it’s not a shrine,” Cole said. “It’s a usable piece of real estate. It belongs to the University of Arkansas now. It belongs to all of you.”
University of Arkansas President Dr. Donald R. Bobbitt and his wife Susan attended Saturday’s open house. Bobbitt admitted that when he saw the gym before the project began, “I wasn’t sure Steve was headed in the right direction, but his vision made this possible. I applaud this community. Everything that happened here today reinforces how important this is.”
When Bobbitt saw the gym in May 2016, “The facade was on the building. What has happened since then is remarkable.”
Bobbitt said that Cole kept him posted about the restoration’s progress.
The project was a community effort, according to Cole. “I didn’t hammer a nail. I didn’t paint a thing. Today, I want to recognize those who worked on the building.”
He presented awards to individuals and groups who helped with the project.
Cole said that the Lockesburg Lions Club donated $3,000 for a sign which will be placed in front of the gym. An alumni organization gave $2,000 for the future restoration of the high school building.
The Bank of Lockesburg donated funds for the heating and air conditioning system.
Saturday, the project received $4,800 to provide furniture.
A grant from the ANCRC paid for much of the restoration. Cole said UA-C received $225,000 from the xxxx for the high school restoration, a project expected to take about a year. Work will begin in August.
“Next summer, we’ll do this again. I hope Cossatot will be able to offer classes here next fall,” Cole said.
In August, Cole will ask the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program to place the gym on the Arkansas Historic Register.
Cole said that Saturday’s open house was “wonderful. It far surpassed expectations. I knew there was a lot of interest and pride. We’re amazed that so many showed up.”
Cole said UA-C asked for the property in 2013. From there, “Funding came along.”
Last July, Cole said the target date for completion was June 30, 2017. Workers beat the deadline by nearly two weeks.
Cossatot plans to have a number of events in the gym, starting this Friday night with the nursing student’s pinning program. “This will be the first official event,” he said.
The old cafeteria in back of the gym was restored and now serves as a conference room. “We will have a lot of things there. It’s such a wonderful room. We’ll have college meetings there.”
Cole conducted a live Facebook tour of the facility after the program. “We’ve had over 5,000 views of the video. There’s a lot of interest. That’s good for education and the community,” he said.
“I’m proud of this town and the community we serve. We are a true community college,” Cole said.