Don’t be alarmed, area history buffs and longtime Gainesville residents. The boarded-up windows don’t mean the hallowed Gym of ‘36 is going into decline.
In fact, the old Gainesville High School gym with ties to the devastating tornado of 1936 is getting a serious makeover, inside and out.
Renovations are turning what used to be a multitenant building into headquarters and offices for Gainesville-based Homestar Financial Corp.
Wes Hunt, Homestar’s president/owner, who bought the building in October 2013 for $1.75 million, said he is spending $850,000 to $1 million to restore the three-story brick building at the corner of West Academy and Washington streets.
He needed the extra space for the growing Gainesville-based company, which has 289 employees and 53 branches throughout the Southeast.
“We are reconfiguring the space to function more as a single-tenant building,” said Hunt, a lifelong Hall County resident.
The internal work includes opening staircases that had been closed since 1991, updating technology and otherwise modernizing the historic structure.
“It (will have) the latest and greatest in fire protection and energy efficiency,” Hunt said. “We’re putting in LED lighting throughout the entire building, plus the windows are being upgraded to the latest (ultraviolet protection) recommendations.”
The windows especially play a key part in the renovations.
Hunt worked in a small office at the Gym of ‘36 as he was starting in the mortgage business 20 years ago.
At that time, the window frames hadn’t been changed since the original Gainesville High School gym was built.
So, the conversion from a gym, where the windows were installed just above the bleachers, to a three-story office building made for an interesting window arrangement.
“You had plenty of daylight coming in, but there was no view to the outside,” Hunt said.
There are other reminders of the building’s past, including original hardwood floors still bearing basketball court markings.
A room on the third floor featuring original, thick fireproof doors may have housed concessions.
“We’ve renamed this the situation room and I don’t know why,” Hunt said, with a laugh.
In 1936, the building was under construction — along with a GHS auditorium, library and additional classrooms — when a tornado on April 6 tore into downtown, destroying buildings around the square and killing some 200 people.
The construction site survived major damage from the storm.
“They had to repair some of the steel and then continue on with the building,” Hunt said.
Through the renovation project, “we’re still trying to keep the feel of the building,” he said.
“We’re also going to take the front stucco off ... and make the facade look like the original entrance on the square side of the building. It’s going to give it a much better look that will really change the overall appearance of the building.”
Hunt said he expects the work to be finished by spring, then a grand opening ceremony will be held to showcase a new look that honors its past.
As he said when he talked about running fiber to the building and using a Voice over Internet Protocol system, “It’s like new meeting the old and, to me, in a big way.”