UNION — What a difference a summer makes.
The exterior of the main entry point of Union High School’s gym, once one of the darkest places on the school’s campus at night, is now almost radiant on nights there are activities in the building, following the completion of work done over the summer and early fall to completely refurbish the main entry to the gym.
The work, funded with money from an $8 million bond package voters approved in 2019, involved the addition of a covered outdoor foyer leading into the gym building. The addition features approximately 20 lights and showcases a painting of the school’s bobcat mascot.
Prior to the renovation work the main entrance was dark even on evenings when activities were conducted in the gym.
“If you held a candle out there it wouldn’t have made it brighter,” said Mendy Clark, the Union School District’s deputy clerk.
Now, the entryway also illuminates the school’s new handicapped-accessible entrance ramp, which was also part of the bond package work. The concrete ramp helps complete a vision Union School District Superintendent Carter Wells has had for years — to make every part of the school’s campus accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical challenges.
“We want everyone to be able to move around the school district with dignity,” he said.
Before the ramp network was installed, getting into the gym’s main entry involved walking on a crumbling sidewalk and then traveling up a flight of concrete steps that were in very poor condition.
“It was a liability,” Clark said.
Wells said it has been very important to make the gym more accessible to everyone, because it is a community and school meeting and event hub.
“It is a focal point,” Wells said of the gym building, which was constructed in 1950.
Union’s gym has a ramp into the south side of the building, but Clark said it is too steep for those with mobility issues to go up alone.
“It would be dangerous,” she said.
Another plus of the renovated entryway is that it makes the gym more identifiable. Wells said that in the past campus visitors would often wonder where the gym was, but not anymore.
“People no longer have to ask where the gym is,” he said. “It is obvious.”
The outdoor foyer leading to the main entrance has a roof, which will help in the winter months to prevent the build up of snow, Wells said.
The covered outdoor area leads into a modern-looking indoor foyer.
“The foyer has twice the space it had before,” Wells said.
Wells said that renovating the main entrance and the indoor foyer of the 71-year-old building is a good compromise for the Union School District, allowing it to move forward while retaining a piece of its past.
“I think our gym is one of the most special buildings in Union County,” he said.