Anderson and K-12 and Development/Redevelopment and Education & Workforce Development and Historic Preservation and Madison County and Regional News and Real Estate & Retail

Deadline nears for saving Anderson's Wigwam gym

February 3, 2014

School officials say a plan is needed to pay ongoing costs at Anderson's iconic Wigwam gymnasium while a group trying to save the building faces a deadline to hold off its demolition.

The Wigwam Sports and Entertainment group is hoping to reopen the 9,000-seat gym that the Anderson School Board closed in 2011 to cut costs.

The school district is willing to turn the gym over at little cost to a group that has financial backing and a practical use for the facility, district business manager Kevin Brown told The Herald Bulletin.

"We will work with anyone on the building," he said. "It has to be a responsible party that has the financial resources to operate and maintain the facility."

The district's March 1 deadline for reuse plans could be extended if other groups pick up the estimated $20,000 to $30,000 a month in utility, maintenance and insurance costs for the 52-year-old gym, Brown said.

Terry Thimlar, a founder of Wigwam Sports and Entertainment, said the group's aim is to rehabilitate the Wigwam complex gradually to bring it back to use.

"There is a strong possibility we're going to get to the finish line," he said. "The community has to rally behind the effort."

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 Fieldhouse in nearby New Castle.

The Anderson school 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 3,000 students to fewer than 7,000 since 2005.

Greg Winkler, director of the Anderson Economic Development Department, said he believes if an interim plan is put in place by March, the school district would be willing to cover part of the costs for several months.

"I believe enough things have happened that an opportunity is moving forward," he said. "It depends on whether or not Thimlar can raise the funds."

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