SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn.—City leaders are unsure what to do with the dilapidated McReynolds High School gymnasium, and some concerned residents say they want to be a part of any decisions.
According to the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society, the school was built in 1921 at the foot of Whiteacre Point to accommodate African-American students during the era of segregation.
It was abandoned in 1965 when Marion County schools integrated, officials said.
The same year the school closed, the main building was burned down by an arsonist. Now, all that remains is the gymnasium, which was constructed in 1949.
City Commissioner Charles Reynolds said the building is in terrible condition, and something needs to be done with it.
“I would just like to do something with the old gym,” Mayor Mike Killian said. “I am open to doing something there, but I’m not sure what we need to do. I think the commissioners feel the same way. I am open to suggestions.”
South Pittsburg resident Monroe Powers, who attended the school as a young man, said two architects have looked at the building and some residents are prepared to invest money to help repair it.
“It would be easier to repair than to tear it down,” he said. “We’ll look at [the town’s] analysis and then at the architects’ analysis. Then we’ll see which way we’re headed. Whatever this board does, I would like for it to consult us before they do it.”
Killian said he’s not opposed to repairing the gym.
“We don’t have any plans for it,” he said. “Give us a plan, and [the town] will participate in it. I think we’ve got a lot of common ground here. I just think we need to make a move on it. If not, we need to fence it off. It is currently a big liability problem for the city.”
Officials said there is a movement to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places, which could free up grant money to help in its revitalization.
Powers said he’s glad to hear the town is willing to help save the building.
“We do not want to tear down a part of history,” he said. “We want to build on that history.”
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.