End of an era as tear-down looms for old gym

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End of an era — Since 1965 Southwestern College’s gym has hosted sports, orientations and even civil rights icons. Other than the hair and uniforms, little has changed in the gym over the years. The tear-down date and what will replace the gym are still uncertain. Courtesy Southwestern College Library Archives

Southwestern College’s creaky 52-year-old gymnasium has seen its last event, but hosted lasting memories. Besides basketball and volleyball, Dr. Cornell West and Dr. Angela Davis also drove home points. High-flying national champion cheerleaders and high-flying Tuskegee Airmen landed on the hardwood. College administrators — some heroic, some criminal — welcomed college employees during steamy Augusts and chilly Januarys.

It held the very first Chicano-Latino Coalition Cesar Chavez breakfast in 1965 and has continued to do so every year since.

Many athletes get their first look into college athletics when they enter the gym for the Jaguar Athletic Orientations each semester. Athletes have mixed feelings about the pending demolition of geriatric gym. To some it was as comfortable as well-worn shoes, to others it was an outdated barn that was too hot, too cold, too dark and too old.

Women’s basketball guard Daeshya Battle said she is sad to say goodbye to the gym, which was her home away from home.

“I was there seven days a week,” she said. “I was in there a lot.”

She loved the picture of the Jaguar on the hardwood.

“Our team always talked about the Jaguars,” she said. “We had this one teammate that would shoot threes from behind the Jaguar. That is something that we took away as a symbol of our gym.

Civil rights icon Davis recently spoke to a sold-out crowd in the gym. She discussed an array of social problems, particularly the importance of creating equal rights for women of color. It was musty and sweltering due to the outdated air system, but also a hotbox of ideas.

Too hot, it seems. Its inadequate fire protection system is one reason Director of Facilities Charlotte Zolezzi said the gym is unsafe.

“It is outdated and would not meet fire code if the building was modernized,” she said. “As soon as you plan to change a building, it has to be brought up to the current National Fire Code requirements. The cost would be extensive and would not be cost effective for even 10 more years of use for that building.”

Player safety is another issue, Zolezzi said.

“The flooring is very old, there are places where it has some chips,” she said. “It’s not really perfectly flat, so we’re always concerned about the safety of athletes.”

Battle agreed.

“The old gym had lots of leaks when it would rain,” she said. “The AC would either be too cold or too hot during the summer. The benches are really old and not comfortable.”

Zolezzi said no tear-down date has been set, but the gym has seen its last basketball game.

“The demolition process will most likely happen over a summer or winter break and will be most likely a slow, controlled, concrete-crushing process from the top down,” she said.

Demolition was scheduled for summer 2017, but that is now unlikely, said Zolezzi. SWC looked throughout the community to see if there was a gym that could be used for spring 2017 classes. Zolezzi and her staff concluded that waiting for classes to finish would be a better option.

What will take the old gym’s place is still uncertain, she said.

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