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Study proposed on future of Anderson's Wigwam gym

June 6, 2012

An architect has proposed leading a study looking at new uses, including a possible convention center, for Anderson's iconic Wigwam gymnasium that school leaders closed last year.

Members of the Anderson Redevelopment Commission said they support the proposal from local architect Jesse Wilkerson and that they hope the building is saved, The Herald Bulletin reported.

The Anderson School Board closed the 9,000-seat gym in a cost-cutting move. As home of the Anderson Indians, the gym was the country's second-largest high school basketball venue.

Wilkerson told the board Tuesday he believed the 50-year-old Wigwam could host concerts, events and classes.

The Wigwam is "something that can be a healing thing for the community and create blood flow in the community," he said.

The district's decision to close the Wigwam followed its consolidation from three high schools to one since the late 1990s and the loss of more than 2,000 students, to about 8,300, in the past decade. District officials said closing the gym would save the school district $550,000 a year in personnel and utility costs.

The district still owns the property.

"The school district has not cut a deal with the city, and the city has not sought a deal with the school district," said Greg Winkler, the city's interim economic development director.

Wilkerson said he would like to perform a study of the facility to assess its structure, space, uses and how improvements could be done in a financially feasible way. Part of the study would include how the facility could be retrofitted to bring down utility costs, such as with alternative energy and lighting options.

The city's Board of Public Works would need to approve the estimated $10,000 cost for Wilkerson's study, Winkler said.

Redevelopment Commission member Justin Pucket said he wanted the Wigwam to be used again but needed to learn about options, costs and plans.

"In my opinion, I think most taxpayers would like to see something done," Puckett said.

The gym was built in 1962 when Anderson was at its economic height with General Motors and other auto companies employing some 27,000 people in factory jobs that have nearly vanished from the city. The only larger high school gym in the U.S. is the 9,325-seat Fieldhouse in nearby New Castle.

Board of Public Works member Bob Schuler urged the public to support efforts to reopen a building that is so tied to the city's history.

"I and several people here feel that we can do something with the facility that will bring recognition to the city," Schuler said.

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