New and improved

Gary DeCock walked out of a spacious locker room and into a relatively tiny team room before turning to address his wide-eyed guests, Ashland High athletic director Karl Kemper and his predecessor, Jim Nagel.

"Maybe this can be for the visiting team," DeCock said with a wink.

Whether or not Kemper takes that mock advice is anybody's guess, but even if he does visitors to the new and improved Mountain Avenue Gym won't have much to complain about. The $13.2 million renovation, expected to be completed in time for basketball season, will give the old gym a much-needed face lift. Both the 7,772-square foot main gym and the 6,600-square foot practice gym, also used for freshman contests, will be surfaced with maple floors and equipped with new wireless scoreboards. The Grizzlies will also see their weight room nearly double in size to 4,338 feet. Other additions include a 1,079-square foot wrestling and dance room, which will include a storage area for the mats, a multi-purpose classroom, increased seating capacity in the main gym and a passive cooling system which should significantly reduce the stifling game-time heat waves Grizzly fans have endured for years.

"We're getting such an upgrade in space and that was such an issue," Kemper said. "We're getting so much more gym floor space, so much more storage space, the size of the weight room. We really had outgrown the building. It was built in 1953 and there were like 300 kids in Ashland High School at that time."

Now, about 1,000 students attend Ashland High, and most of them will probably appreciate the renovation since air conditioning for all the classrooms and offices also was part of the package.

But the crown jewel of the project is the main gym. Besides its increased size — both the main gym and practice gym are big enough to house two side-by-side basketball courts — the facility will also feature a new main entrance on the east side of the building, a ticket booth, trophy cases and three public restrooms. The lighting will be much improved, too, thanks in part to the white ceiling and windows galore.

"The comfort level in the gym is going to be much better primarily for the kids, but also for the people who come to watch games," Kemper said.

DeCock, a project manager with Heery International, which is overseeing all district construction projects, took Kemper and Nagel on a tour of the facility on Wednesday. DeCock said the target date for completion is Dec. 18, but it may be possible for the school to host events prior to that if the floors are completed.

Ashland is scheduled to host the Ashland Rotary Hoop Classic, Dec. 18-19.

The Ashland School Board chose to renovate the gym rather than replace it during a meeting in June of 2007. Adroit Construction crews began demolition the old building in July of 2008.

"It's been a little bit of work to get here," DeCock said.

Kemper and the rest of AHS athletics department moved out of Mountain Avenue Gym during spring break of 2008 and have been working out of makeshift offices at Lincoln Elementary ever since. Now, about 16 months later, Kemper and the rest of the staff are anxious to return. Barring an unforeseen delay, the big move in day will be some time during Christmas break.

"We're ready to be back," Kemper said. "It's like living in an apartment while you're waiting for your house to be built."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or

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