Can the old Shields High School gym in Seymour be saved?
Some people think with enough money and community support, it can be and put to good use.
Ideas for the building range from an indoor athletic facility, entertainment venue or youth center to a homeless shelter, community theater or skating rink to a senior center, substance abuse treatment facility or for educational services. Others have suggested a distillery or a makerspace.
As for the 4.5 acres of property, the possibilities are wide open. A dog park, a community garden space, walking paths, a botanical garden or affordable housing are just some suggestions that have been made.
When Todd Storey drives past the 80-year-old building that sits along Sixth and Pine streets, he’s able to look past its broken windows and deteriorated condition and envision what could be.
His interest in the property is simple. He was born and raised in Seymour and knows the gym holds a special place in the community’s history, even though he never went to Shields High School.
“I would like to see a generation of kids be able to play in that gym,” he said.
Seymour resident Stacy Brooks, who is an advocate of historical preservation in the community, also wants to see the building restored and be used as a gym once again. Her parents and siblings attended Shields High School.
“I went there my seventh grade year,” Brooks said of Shields Junior High School, which was on the same property as the high school. “We were the last class.”
She recalls the gym being the best part of the whole school.
With its location in a now federally recognized historic district, the site is a perfect candidate for a historical renovation project, she said.
“Just to bring it back to what it once was,” she said. “I know a lot of the youth teams struggle just to find practice space, so I would just love to see boys and girls back in there playing basketball and volleyball and maybe we could bring some tournaments in.”
The last game played in the gym was in 1970.
Storey and Brooks are collaborating and pulling together potential resources of support for the project, including Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson and Greg Sekula from Indiana Landmarks, the largest private statewide historic preservation organization in the country.
Storey works for Parkland Inc. in Seymour, which has owned the property for the past 31 years. When the late Ralph Pardieck purchased the building in 1990, the family did some work to fix it up, Brooks said.
“He redid the gym floor, redid the bleachers and cleaned up all the pigeon droppings and replaced all of the windows,” she said. “But people kept breaking them out, and it got to the point where they couldn’t keep up with the vandals.”
Before Pardieck, the property belonged to Indiana Bible College, which bought it from Seymour Community School Corp. in 1981 when the old Shields High School and junior high school still stood. The buildings and land had been offered to the city first, but the city at that time didn’t want it.
Brooks said the college didn’t have a lot of funds to repair the old school, which eventually was torn down in 1997. The gym was left standing because it was still stable, she said.
“When you go through it, it’s pretty solid,” she said. “It’s all concrete. The bones are still there.”
Storey said the fact that it’s still standing is both a blessing and a curse.
“If we want to save it, the shell is stable,” he said. “The curse is if we want it to fall down, it’s stable.”
But Storey truly doesn’t want the building to fall down, he said.
He also knows it’s going to take a lot to fix it back up, more than what one person or group can do alone. Even if the gym was just given away, it would still cost millions of dollars to turn it into anything useful for the community, he said.
“And then it’s going to be a challenge to recoup that money and then sustain whatever it becomes,” he said.
He’s hoping there are opportunities for grants and other avenues of fundraising to make something happen. To do that, however, Storey said instead of complaining and pointing fingers, people are going to have to get involved.
“I know in my heart if we can get it done, that gym will be used,” he said.
There have been some public concerns the building is a safety hazard. In 2018, a fire was started in a section of the bleachers by someone who was trespassing inside the gym.
All of the plumbing and electric would have to be completely redone along with the rest of the interior.
Brooks said she doesn’t know what’s feasible at this point, but she knows of other communities that have made such projects happen and doesn’t see why Seymour can’t.
“We need to come up with an idea or a plan,” she said. “We thought if we could get community support, maybe if we all rally around it, we can get the ball rolling and see what the possibilities are.”
But she knows nothing will happen if someone doesn’t try.
“All we can do is try,” she said.
Storey said as far as fundraising goes, he is planning to set up a fund at a local bank to accept donations to save the Shields gym. They also need to know what the community wants.
There also is a public survey available for people to share their thoughts on what they would like to see the building and property used for and how they would like to help. The survey can be accessed online at forms.gle/96Y3HxsQqszr77GBA.
From the city’s perspective, Nicholson said he is glad to see the owners are willing to explore options for the property.
“The Shields gym carries many fond memories for several in the community and is considered an eyesore by just as many,” he said. “I’m not sure what will come out of all of this, but I hope members of our community will give feedback to help them decide what is the best option for the future.”
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The public is invited to participate in a brief online community survey about the Shields High School Gym at https://forms.gle/96Y3HxsQqszr77GBA and share their thoughts on what should be done with the building and property.