State approves $3 million for renovation of GSW historic Florrie Chappell Gymnasium
AMERICUS — Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) announces plans for the renovation of Florrie Chappell Gymnasium, the University’s oldest unoccupied building, thanks to the inclusion of $3 million in House Bill 31 of Georgia’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of construction for the “old gym,” as some fondly remember. Completed in early 1939, at a cost of $65,000 (approximately $1.2 million today, adjusted for inflation), the gym served as GSW’s primary athletics facility for decades, with a basketball court and auditorium space that seated 1,000 on the main level. It was the site of many concerts and graduation ceremonies, with the first held in June 1939. The basement contained a swimming pool and large recreation room used for dancing, games, and PE classes such as fencing and badminton.
|“Georgia Southwestern is excited about the revival and future of this historic building,” said GSW President Neal Weaver. “The restoration will be an important element in attracting new students to our campus and retaining them through graduation. I, along with the entire GSW community, are so grateful to our legislative delegation (Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus; and Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson; and Rep. Mike Cheokas, R-Americus) who made sure this project was included in the FY20 budget.”
The state legislature put $3 million toward the total project cost of $3.5 million, while GSW will provide the remaining $500,000 in private funds.
Positioned in a central and highly-visible location of campus adjacent to the University’s “Centennial Plaza,” the restored building will rejuvenate this area of campus into a modern, student recreation center complete with space for strength training and group fitness areas. GSW’s objective is to return this building to a place where students come together to improve themselves in body and mind.
Architect selection will take place late Fall 2019, and construction is slated to begin Fall 2020, with completion in late Summer 2021.
The gymnasium is named in honor of Florrie Allen Chappell, mother of Allen Chappell, who served in the Georgia House of Representatives (1933-34, 1937-40), Georgia State Senate (1935), and Georgia Public Service Commission (1941-65).
According to GSW history Professor Evan Kutzler who recently published an article on the building for the Americus Times-Recorder, “The gym was one of the most utilized and loved spaces on campus. This place meant too many different things to too many people for one person to capture it.”
Ken Oxford, member of the 1965 Men’s Basketball Team, recalls his “long, hot, and hard basketball practices,” and not being able to jump in the pool afterwards because it wasn’t allowed. “The games were exciting though. With the bleachers so close to the court, the entire game had an energetic atmosphere. We had a really close team, and we still are. We get together for reunions every few years.”
Another basketball player who stepped foot on the court was former President Jimmy Carter who was one of eight Freshman All-Stars featured in the 1942 Gale yearbook.
“Understanding the gymnasium’s past also means considering its future,” said Kutzler.
James Griggs, a GSW freshman from Tifton and fitness center supervisor who spends his free time in the gym, has high hopes for Florrie Chappell’s future and is looking forward to enjoying the new facility upon completion.
“I feel like this will bring together students and the community in a place where they can bond physically and mentally. The new facility will bring excitement and enthusiasm among the student body as well as heightened school spirit to the campus atmosphere,” said Griggs.
For anyone who has an interest in helping bring this building back to life, the Florrie Chappell Gymnasium is one of the five funds featured in GSW’s upcoming first-ever Day of Giving on Thursday, Oct. 10. Visit www.gsw.edu/dayofgiving for more information.