Florence gym’s future precarious after pipe break
Water spilled for days, submerging floor under more than an inch of water
Of all the uses Florence Mayor Bob Gayle has envisioned for the former school gymnasium at 7th and Dean Sts., wading pool isn’t one of them.
However, that’s what he had on his hands when a water leak went undetected for up to two weeks and covered the 5,600-square-foot gym floor with up to two inches of water.
Now, the 62-year-old building may be beyond saving, Gayle said.
The smooth maple floor is a wavy, rippled disaster. “Huge buckles” near the stage aren’t as problematic as are barely perceptible waves, Gayle said.
“They’re trip hazards because you don’t see them,” he said. “All these little short boards are curled now that they’re wet. It’s like a cheese grater. If you slip and fall, you’re going to get chewed up pretty bad.”
Water got into storage compartments beneath the stage and leaked into an old locker room below. In the northwest corner, water seeped into a basement hallway and soaked classroom carpets.
“It’s a big mess,” Gayle said.
The culprit was a fitting underneath a sink in the concession stand, Gayle said. Water to the building was turned on in March for a Quail Forever banquet, and Gayle thinks the leak must have happened soon after.
“It’s a big mess,” he said.
An annual Memorial Day all-class reunion of Florence High School had to be relocated to the VFW in Marion.
It’s too early to know how much an insurance settlement might be, so the fate of the building is up in the air.
“I’m not sure what the solution is going to be or where the money comes from,” Gayle said. “There’s a strong segment of the community that thinks it’s a waste of time and money. I’m a big proponent of the gym.”
The city bought the gymnasium in 2008, when Marion County Special Education Cooperative was still occupying lower level classrooms. The cooperative moved to Marion in 2009.
Gayle has long viewed the building as an asset, and has suggested it could be used for swap meets, indoor auctions, indoor remote-controlled fly-ins, large receptions, and such. A 2015 attempt to form a group to promote the building fizzled, Gayle said.
“The city’s not in a position to manage the property and market the thing,” Gayle said. “I think there’s a lot of things we could be doing with it. It’s a lack of getting the word out.”
Gayle said he felt an obligation to a generation of Florence taxpayers who paid for the building to keep it alive.
“They stepped up to build a building that for all practical purposes would last for generations,” he said. “It’s all concrete. It probably should be there for the Second Coming.”
Gayle is hopeful people will support restoration.
“I suspect we’ll have to be pretty creative as to how we can rectify this problem,” he said.