Advocates seek cooler air for sweltering heat in historic Rock Hill gym

Kids struggle to play on in Emmett Scott center

jself@heraldonline.comJuly 12, 2012 

On a sizzling Saturday in June – when Rock Hill area pastors gathered at the Emmett Scott Recreation Center to shoot hoops and raise money for the center – one thing was clear.

It was hot. So hot that, even with fans going, it was hard to keep playing in the packed city-operated gym on Crawford Road.

But that’s how hot it is in the summer for the youth and adults using the gymnasium every day, said C.T. Kirk, pastor at Sanctuary of Life Outreach Center.

“People stayed because the cause was greater than the pain,” said Kirk, a member of the city’s Facilities Advisory Board for Emmett Scott.

The gym’s sweltering heat has been an ongoing concern for Kirk and other community leaders who would like the city to help find a solution.

“It was so hot in there that Saturday” during the basketball game that some people asked for their money back because they couldn’t stand it, said Josephine Jordan, president of the Rock Hill Scott-ites, a group of Emmett Scott High School alumni that advocates for the historic school-turned-recreation-center.

“It’s uncalled for; we are taxpayers,” said Jordan, a 1959 Emmett Scott graduate.

It’s not that the air conditioning system in the gym is broken; there is no air conditioning.

The gym was built in 1952 at the campus that served as segregated Rock Hill’s black high school until the 1970s, when the state ordered integration and the school closed.

The city turned the school into a recreation center soon after. It has programming six days a week, including a public swimming pool, camps for children, a boxing gym and sporting activities and classes for adults.

The boxing gym, in an area adjacent to the main gym, also doesn’t have air conditioning, which causes the boxing club to shut down occasionally, said Latoya McDonald, the center’s director.

While the heat hasn’t impeded other programs, it has prompted complaints from children and parents and concerns about the children’s safety.

“Sometimes the children can’t really play the way they want to because of the heat,” McDonald said, adding that the temperatures are “discouraging” for the children.

“But we’re more concerned about the safety of the children and the adults,” she said.

Marlos Barnette coaches basketball teams in the men’s and youth leagues and says the heat has worn on young players who, about halfway through a game, start asking for more and more water breaks just to stay hydrated.

On a recent day of scorching outside temperatures, Barnette said, the children “could barely breathe” inside the gym, with the hot air pressing down on them.

An ongoing problem

Rock Hill officials are aware of the heat problem at Emmett Scott and want to find a solution, said John Taylor, operations supervisor with the city’s recreation department.

City Councilman Osbey Roddey – an Emmett Scott graduate who was at the gym that Saturday of the fundraiser and “witnessed that heat sitting as they played that game” – said he’s committed to finding some solution, whether it’s putting in an air conditioning system or something else.

Emmett Scott’s gym is one of three in Rock Hill’s system of recreation centers. Boyd Hill and Northside centers also have gyms, but the city built both in the 1970s with air conditioning.

The problem with Emmett Scott’s gym is “maybe not an A/C issue as much as it is a building issue,” Taylor said Wednesday.

The city has invested in improvements to the gym over the years, including a new floor, ceiling, lights and a ventilation system designed to push hotter air out and pull fresh air in. But the gym isn’t insulated, and air seeps in and out through holes in the walls.

Taylor provided two possible solutions, neither of which would be quick and easy, he said:

• Remodeling the gym to put in a new air-conditioning system, insulation and the power upgrades that would be associated with a new air conditioning system would cost $130,000 to $170,000. On top of that, the annual utility costs would be $10,000-$15,000.

That’s just an initial glance at what it might take to improve the building, Taylor said. He won’t know actual costs until the city decides exactly how to proceed.

• The city also could demolish the existing gym and build a new one – not a popular choice among community leaders, including Jordan and Kirk, who would like to see the original building remain intact because it’s an important part of the community’s history.

Both solutions are “long-term” efforts that would have to go through the city’s annual budgeting process, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols said.

“The chances of us doing anything before the weather breaks,” Echols said, are not good.

‘Want to be heard’

But advocates of the center are hoping something can be done sooner.

Kirk said he would like to see more realistic cost estimates and ideas for bringing cooler air into the gym.

Opening up ducts from the adjacent building, which has air conditioning, would help, he said.

Taylor said whatever the solution, it must make the best use of the city’s resources and the taxpayers’ money, while taking into consideration the wishes of the community.

If the city wants to show its commitment to the center, Kirk said, it should start being “proactive” – planning for improvements, sealing cracks and getting more cost estimates.

Jordan said she plans to present a petition to the City Council on Aug. 13 requesting that the city do something to air-condition the gym.

“I know the city will say something about it being long-term,” Jordan said. “We just want to be heard. We hope they won’t tear down that gym.”

Jamie Self 803-329-4062

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