Ground broken on new Billingsley gym

Published 5:18 pm Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Work has begun at Billingsley School on a desperately needed new gymnasium.

Though the structure wouldn’t be completed until next season at the earliest, students, coaches and others in the Billingsley community can know relief is on the way.

The current gymnasium, along with the football stadium and other remnants of the old school, sits across County Road 37 from the school that has been in use since 2000. So, students have to board a bus and travel across a set of railroad tracks for physical education classes, or to practice basketball or volleyball.

“The community has been eager to have a competition gym since we moved to this campus,” Billingsley Principal Van Smith said. “It will be the next step in moving all our athletics to the new school.”

And the outdated facility, which was built in 1958, often fails to provide sufficient space for basketball games.

For example, Billingsley hosted Chilton County for four basketball games on Nov. 23. Because of the number of players scheduled to compete and because Autauga County schools were closed the week of Thanksgiving, the crowd was too large for Billingsley’s gym.

“There were some people who came into the lobby of the gym, and we were telling them, ‘Before you pay to get in, there are no seats. You’re welcome to try to find a place to stand,’” Billingsley boys basketball coach J.T. Lawrence said. “Some came on in, but others said, ‘We’ll just go back home.’

“The new facility will help ease that burden a lot. The kids will have a place they can play and be proud of. It’s something the kids and the school and the community as a whole will be able to enjoy.”

The new gymnasium will also be used for school assemblies and graduation ceremonies, events currently cramped into the school cafeteria.

Smith said the gym should seat about 800 people for sporting events and about 1,300 for events that use a stage instead of the whole floor. The current gym seats about 250 people.

The building will also feature a full concession stand, a lobby and dressing rooms for Billingsley and visiting teams.

It is patterned after Dallas County High School’s new gym, and the appearance will match that of the school.

Ground work on the project began last month, and Smith said officials are hopeful the gym is ready for use by next basketball season.

Bennett Construction, based in Birmingham, won the bid for the project. Smith said some funding is coming from federal stimulus money that was granted with the intent of providing jobs for state workers.

Smith said the old gym could still be used for practice and that he had already been contacted by the Autauga County YMCA. The Y uses Billingsley’s elementary gym, which doesn’t have bleachers.

A field house has been built adjacent to the school within the last year, and an area for a football field has been leveled. Smith said the plan is for the Bears to begin practicing at the new site but still compete at Mims Field, and the move would be completed in the next few years.

“As we can afford it, then we’ll move those facilities this way,” Smith said.