Bennett, Bonlee and Silk Hope to get new gyms, schedule not set for project

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Schools Board of Education voted last month to pursue the $12.9 million replacement of three gymnasiums at Bennett, Bonlee and Silk Hope schools — three smaller K-8 schools in rural areas of the district.

The board reviewed four options from a district feasibility study presented by Chief Operations Officer Chris Blice, ultimately selecting the fourth option, which entails the construction of a new 10,000 square foot gym in a different location on each campus with a Pre-Engineered Metal Building (PEMB). Each gym will include a middle-school-sized basketball court, locker and team facilities for boys and girls, public facilities and associated storage/mechanical spaces.

“I’d be remiss not to say this, but the existing gyms — to have been built in 1951 — are in great shape and they’ve been very well maintained. They’re beautiful,” Blice told the News + Record. “They’re just undersized, and they don’t really meet what we need for a middle school PE and athletic program. And they’re not going to, because the only way for them to do that would be basically to pick the roof up and blow the walls out aways, and then I guess expand the roof and put it back. Good heavens, if you’re going to do that, why don’t you just build a new one?”

Blice presented the feasibility study as part of an update on the Chatham County Capital Improvements Program, where Chatham County Government allots funding to the school district for certain construction or infrastructure projects. An example of such a project is the New Central Services Building Project, which Blice said is proceeding on time and has an expected December 2022 move-in date.

If started in 2022, the gym project is expected to cost about $12.9 million among the three schools, according to district estimates. (If started in 2023 the district anticipates a $13.9 million price tag, reflecting an estimated 8% increase per year.)

Though the board voted to proceed with construction, the new gyms are currently an unfunded and unscheduled future project, the district said. The necessary funding will be requested through the CIP process with the county; the CIP application is due in March.

“All those things are driven by funding and when the money’s available,” Blice said. “Those kinds of things we are working through and we’re going to be sharing it with the board on the 14th — we are working through a grant process that the county had access to for capital projects.”

Of the other options, one more included replacement of the gyms — a more expensive traditional brick and mortar replacement estimated to cost $17.5 million. The other two renovation options, while significantly cheaper, did not meet all the expansion needs.

The first renovation option cost about $5 million, but would not have expanded the locker rooms, playing area or spectator seating area. The second option cost about $8.4 million, but would have only expanded the locker rooms.

In response to a Facebook post sharing the news, multiple people supported the move.

“This is great news. It’s definitely long overdue,” one commenter, Wanda Wardlaw, said. “I’m sure the kids will be happy.”

Blice said the district has done “many, many renovations” at all its schools.

At the middle and high school gyms, for example, the district recently replaced all its bleachers — now electric, with each school’s name painted on them. They’ve also worked on changing gym lighting to LED lights, renovating floors and updating locker rooms.

“And that’s just the gym,” Blice said. “I mean, we’re not talking about the rest of the building — but, you know, those are the kind of renovations that we do in all of our schools, and specifically the gym. We do that kind of stuff everywhere.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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