New gym takes shape

Ashland High School Principal Jeff Schlecht had to fight to contain his excitement as he and District Project Manager Gary De Cock led a tour Tuesday through the high school's renovated athletic and music facilities.

"It's just what we wanted," Schlecht said beside the gym's main entrance.

"Beautiful," he said while turning one corner.

He and De Cock spent almost an hour Tuesday guiding selected AHS students and staff members through the new building, as construction crews near the completion of an 18-month, $13.4 million reconstruction project designed to improve the conditions on a facility that had gone five decades without an upgrade.

"This is great work," Schlecht said. "The students and teachers are getting what they asked for."

Construction crews aim to finish the project Dec. 18 while students are on their winter break. Once completed, the facilities will include a primary and secondary all-purpose gymnasium, a weight training room and boys' and girls' locker rooms, as well as accommodations for wrestling and dance programs.

The school's music facilities are also receiving an upgrade. De Cock detailed the extra work crew members took to increase acoustic quality in rooms designed for band, orchestra and choir practice.

"The walls are plastered, and there are new windows to keep street noise down," he said.

Crews are still working to surface the interior floors, as well as install additional seats in the primary gym. Schlecht estimated its seating capacity would be around 1,500 once completed.

"It's a dramatic change," he said. One key element from the old building will stay the same, however: the entrance façade, complete with its trademark "Grizz" mural on the front.

Ten students participated in the tour, including AHS senior Nathan Harris. Harris appreciated the school keeping an eye on tradition while building toward bigger and better things.

"It's nice to see how they fused the old building's classic qualities with the up-to-date look," he said. "Everyone from the athletes to the band members are going to benefit from the work they've put into the facility."

De Cock said updating the facilities was not only a benefit for students, but a necessary precaution. The gym was constructed in 1954 and, in recent years, its age had begun to show.

"One of the issues in replacing (the old building) was that it was not earthquake safe," he said. "The trusses were starting to fail." Trusses serve as shock absorbers and prevent the roof from caving in should an earthquake occur.

"They met the code at the time," he said.

Schlecht said a celebration is planned to inaugurate the new facilities when students return from winter break. The main gym should also be ready for home basketball games by then.

"I believe the community is going to love it," Schlecht said. But Nathan Harris may have put it best, after seeing what his fellow students have to look forward to.

"The gym looks like it's going to be a staple of Ashland High School for a long time," he said.

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