Indiana Landmarks recently released its annual 10 Most Endangered list to showcase historical sites in the state that are on the verge of extinction.
The James M. Shields Memorial Gymnasium at 404-418 W. Fifth St. in Seymour made the list for the second year in a row, but there may be some hope for its future.
A description of the Shields gym on the Indiana Landmarks website states that an architectural assessment showed the steel and concrete gym to be structurally sound, but vandals over the years have broken windows and covered walls with graffiti.
The bleachers also were damaged after a fire broke out inside the gym in 2018, and leaks in the roof have caused water to make its way inside the gym, according to the website.
Greg Sekula, southern regional director for Indiana Landmarks, said the organization was awarded a grant last year to pay for an assessment of the gymnasium, which saw its last game in 1970, to see what rehabilitation costs would be.
That assessment was completed with numbers updated in May. According to that assessment, it would cost approximately $4 million to rehabilitate the gym, he said.
Sekula said he has been working with the owner of the property and they discussed a viable alternative to having the community raise millions of dollars.
The plan, he said, would be to have some residential development on the property along with the gym and the residents on the property would have access to the gym as an amenity.
With this plan, Sekula said money can be raised from the residential development to rehabilitate the gym and go toward future maintenance.
Opportunities would still be available for the public to visit the gym, Sekula said.
“What is the magic number of units that is going to make the gym project feasible?” he said. “That still has to be explored.”
Sekula’s goal within the next year is to have a plan in place for the gym to be rehabilitated.
“If we’re talking this time next year, my hope would be that there is some development scheme that has been approved or developed that is going to allow for the gym to be rehabilitated,” he said.
He also said the city’s involvement will be crucial for the gym’s rehabilitation, and city officials have been involved in discussions with Indiana Landmarks about the gym.
“It’s certainly an iconic gymnasium and an important part of Indiana history, so I’m hopeful that (Indiana Landmarks) will be able to play a role in moving it in the right direction,” Sekula said.
Seven sites on the 10 Most Endangered List are new entries, while the other three are repeats. Two others — the Hulman Building and Garage in Evansville and the courthouse annex in New Castle — also were on the 2021 list.
While being one of the state’s top 10 most endangered historical sites isn’t the most positive accolade, Sekula said structures on the list can hopefully benefit from the awareness raised from the publicity.
The Shields gymnasium was originally constructed by Works Progress Administration in 1941. It could seat 3,500 people, and 21 sectional tournaments were held there from 1942 to 1970.
Shields High School, which adjoined the gymnasium, was built in 1910 and demolished in 1997.
In 1981, the current Seymour Middle School building was built and the city stopped using the Shields school and gym within the school system.
The property where both the original school and gym are on was then bought by Indiana Bible College.
Parkland Inc. bought the property in 1990 and still owns it today.
The new entries to this year’s 10 Most Endangered list are First Friends Church, Marion; Birdsell Mansion, South Bend; Cades Mill Covered Bridge, Fountain County; Geter Means House, Gary; Stinesville Commercial Building, Stinesville; Knox County Poor Asylum, Vincennes; and Kamm and Schellinger Brewery, Mishawaka.
Demolition has claimed only 20 of the 159 Most Endangered sites since the list was introduced in 1991, while nearly 100 places are completely restored or no longer endangered.