Baldwin City Council accepts donation of historic gym despite questions about future use, cost of renovations

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Baldwin City has accepted the donation of this historic gym at Eighth and Chapel streets. The gym is on the state and national historic registries.

The Baldwin City Council has agreed to accept the donation of a historic gymnasium, but questions remain about what the building will be used for and how much it will cost to make it functional.

At a Sept. 17 meeting, the City Council agreed to accept the donation of the gym at Eighth and Chapel streets, which was built in 1942. The gym was donated by the family of Stephen and Alison Bauer, a former city councilman and his wife who both died in a car accident two years ago. Talks about transferring the building to the city had been going on since June.

The gym is listed on state and national historic registries, and Councilman Brian Cramer, who has researched its history, said it was a Works Progress Administration project.

While the city won’t pay anything to obtain the deed to the gym, the building will require some repairs before the city can put it to use. For starters, Councilman David Simmons said the roof would need to be replaced, which is estimated to cost about $100,000. Other problems, including mold and a warped floor, could drive the cost of repairs as high as $200,000, he said, and there would be extra costs to equip the building for whatever its new use might be.

Mayor Casey Simoneau said the city had enough money in its parks and economic development funds for the roof replacement. He said he was told by Lawrence architect Jay Zimmerschied that the building was structurally sound apart from the roof, and that the gym floor might settle back to the underlying concrete surface once the roof was repaired.

But some members of the council were skeptical about the arrangement. Councilman A.J. Stevens said that although he would like to see the “cool” gym preserved, he thought the City Council was backing into a commitment without a clear idea of what it would use the building for.

Simmons said he envisioned the gym as a senior center and a youth center for elementary schoolers. It also would be available for events such as wedding receptions and family reunions.

Simoneau suggested appointing a committee of community members and representatives from the school board and the Baldwin City Recreation Commission to study future uses of the gym. Simmons and Cramer said they were in favor of that plan, but no action was taken at the Sept. 17 meeting to form such a committee.

In addition, city leaders discussed how they might pay for any work on the building beyond the roof replacement.

Simmons suggested the city could issue bonds to pay for the renovations, but Cramer said the gym’s historic status might make it possible to use grants and donations to fund the project.

Through his research, Cramer said he learned most of the old WPA gyms had been razed or were in disrepair. However, he learned of WPA gyms in Idaho and Kentucky that had been renovated for community use through a mix of grants and community donations.

“I think it is something we could do here,” he said.

It would not be the first time the Baldwin City community invested in the gym, Cramer said.

He said he learned through his research that the WPA wasn’t responsible for all of the work on the gym. Partway through construction, the WPA stopped work on the project so it could devote more manpower to the Military Science Building that was under construction on the University of Kansas campus.

“People from the community and students from Baker University completed the gym,” Cramer said. “Baker students worked on it because the Baker gym burned down.”


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