Work begins on Morgan gym at West Park
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
Nine months after the anticipated opening of a county-owned gymnasium, land is now being cleared at West Park for the 10,500-square-foot structure, with a new opening date penciled in for June.
District 2 County Commissioner Randy Vest said the expected cost of the gym, initially pegged at $1.2 million, is approaching $2 million.
“COVID probably brought the cost up $500,000,” he said of the now-$1.9 million estimated price tag. “The pandemic made it difficult to bid out, and COVID has really put a yellow light on this thing and slowed the entire process down.”
Original plans in January 2020 called for the gym to open in January 2021.
The county held a groundbreaking at the park, located off Iron Man Road, Aug. 20, but wet weather kept workers off the site for about three weeks.
“We’re doing prep site work now. We’re taking up asphalt in the parking lot. We’ve removed some trees and have the water lines located,” Vest said. “We’re getting ready to build the dirt pad so the contractor can take over.”
A county crew, rather than a contractor, is doing the prep work, which Vest said is saving taxpayers about $450,000-500,000. He said the bulk of the construction cost is coming out of the District 2 road and bridge fund.
Daikin America of Decatur donated $160,000 toward the project, Vest added.
Richard Craft, owner of Craft & Associates Inc., of Cullman, is the general contractor. He was unavailable for comment Friday.
“I’d love to have an open house by June 1,” Vest said, “but relative to everything else, if this pandemic takes an ugly turn, it might get worse before it gets better, and the opening will be delayed again.”
The gym is being constructed where the outside basketball courts once stood, on the east side of the park.
Vest said the gym’s wooden floor will be 84-by-50 feet, which is high school regulation. “If there is ever a problem at the schools, they could borrow it without any problems with the floor size,” he said.
He said the new facility will have locker rooms for two teams, restrooms, office space, a concession stand, a storage room and bleachers.
Morgan County Parks and Recreation Director Sean Dailey said the county’s 100 or so athletic teams will benefit from the first county-owned and operated gym. He said the Danville community has 17 youth basketball teams in age divisions 6U, 8U, 10U and 12U.
Until the gym opens, the county youth programs will continue to use Morgan schools’ gymnasiums, Dailey said.
“After we get the gym open, we might look at having some adult basketball leagues, church leagues, more volleyball, aerobics, some special events. We have to wait and see and gauge the use,” he said. “We’d be open to helping the schools and letting them use the gym for basketball and volleyball tournaments.”
Dailey said the athletic complexes in South Park in Falkville and North Park in Priceville are being enhanced soon.
Two more fields, a new concession stand and more restrooms are planned for North Park.
“Travel ball coaches love the park’s location, just off the interstate,” Dailey said.
Sam Heflin, mayor of Priceville, said he was thrilled to hear of the county’s plans. He said organizations from the Birmingham area frequently call about using the baseball/softball complex at North Park.
“That park is in demand, especially for softball tournaments. When we have out-of-town teams come in, they buy our gas, eat at our restaurants and stay at our hotels,” he said. “It’s a quality facility.”