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Message received: donations needed

Transmitter building rehab relies on community support.

Bernadette Stephen-McRae and Jean Welch are laughing and jumping like schoolgirls.

This, at seeing nothing more than the inside of the peeling and windowless transmitter building at Battle Point Park.

“The roof is working! It’s dry!” said Welch, sports supervisor for the park district.

The historic edifice that housed the effort to intercept wartime Japanese signals during World War II is finding new life as an indoor rec facility for the park district’s “tot and parent” gymnastic programs.

But to complete the needed overhaul of the structure, the community has to step in; the district’s budget does not include money for capital expenses, so the facilities renovation will rely on donations.

As she inspects the building, Stephen-McRae, fund-raising coordinator for the project and a volunteer with the roller hockey league that plays at the park, recalls threading her way through the heaps of junk that groups used to store there.

“For six years, I used to come here in the dark,” she said. “I used to go in with a snake light wrapped around my head because there were no lights.”

Tight quarters

The first phase of the renovation will restore ventilation and heating to the whole building, but concentrate on turning the upstairs into a fully equipped gymnastics facility for younger students.

The need for the new space is pressing, as the gymnastics programs offered by the park and school districts, which now share the island’s limited facilities, continue to grow.

The one gymnastics room at Bainbridge High School becomes badly overcrowded during the school’s November through March season – a situation worsened by the recent demolition of the gym in the Commodore Center.

Currently, members of the park district’s two competitive teams work out every week day, sharing space with the twice-weekly classes which help support the facility. Some 400-500 kids take a gymnastics class each quarter – all in a space that Welch estimates is less than 4,000 square feet.

Because the ceiling of the transmitter building is not high enough for older gymnasts, the space will be dedicated to the beginner students and “kindergym” programs.

Andrea Thiessen, head coach of the park district’s girls gymnastics team and instructor for kindergym classes, says that being able to move some classes out of the BHS gym would give the girls and boys teams more time on the equipment when preparing for a meet.

“The transmitter building would be a great place for (younger) kids, so they can have dedicated-sized equipment and settings so they can get even more out of class,” she said.

Pitching in

The district estimates the cost of overhauling the building at $225,000 to $250,000 – a far cry from previous considerations of a $5 million levy to purchase land and build a new structure.

Work on the project began last fall, when park staff hauled out four 30-cubic-yard demolition dumpster loads of junk.

Local contractor Mike Horishige and brother Jack donated their time during a recent run of fine weather to seal building’s leaky roof, and Bill Nelson of Nelson Wood and Glass has pledged to donate labor and some materials to frame the walls and put in insulation and windows by the first part of March.

Stephen-McRae hopes that at least 75 percent of the cost can be covered by donated labor, in-kind donations or contractors providing materials at cost.

“(Once people get involved) it’s like a runaway train,” she said. “We have such a civic-minded community, and our parks department really deserve our support.”

Stephen-McRae cites the success of the park’s Kids Up! playground, which was built by nearly 400 people in one weekend after a fund-raising effort purchased the materials.

“There’s phenomenal ownership when the community is involved,” Stephen-McRae said. “We hope this (renovation), too, will bring volunteers in the community to donate.”

For information about the renovation, contact Bernadette Stephen-McRae at msmcrae@hotmail.com or 780-0499.

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