Warren Central cuts the ribbon on renovated high school gym

Published 3:24 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

For two years, Warren Central High School’s gym was surrounded by a construction zone. For the next three years, it was one.

At long, long last, the work is done and the place is home again.

Vicksburg Warren School District officials and members of Warren Central’s volleyball and basketball teams held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday to mark the end of a total overhaul of its gym.

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The renovations were part of a larger $33 million project to modernize the school and have taken more than 5 1/2 years to complete.

“I’m just happy for the guys that we’ve got a place to call home. To see them happy brings water to my eyes. It’s been a long time coming,” Warren Central boys basketball coach Keith Williams said. “For four or five years we never complained. We found our true identity. We’re Vikings. We’re just going to continue to train and when that day comes, it comes. Thank God today is the day that it came.”

The renovated facility will host its first athletic event Thursday night when Warren Central plays Pearl in its volleyball regular-season finale. A pregame ceremony will be held at 6 p.m., followed by the match at 6:45.

The first home basketball game is scheduled for Nov. 9 against Germantown.

Fans attending the volleyball match and early-season basketball games should use the school entrance adjacent to the football stadium. Signs and security will direct them through the corridors to the gym that is in the middle of the school.

It’ll be the first time the senior Class of 2024 will play on their home campus. Warren Central’s volleyball and basketball teams have played at Warren Central Junior High since the fall of 2020. For the two years before that, they dressed in classrooms and worked around construction that was going on in other parts of the high school.

“I think it’s pretty cool. I’m really excited,” senior volleyball player Ellie Henderson said. “Although it is going to be our first and last game in this gym, I’m really excited to see how it all plays out and to see people show up. That’s going to be a lot of fun if a lot of people show up.”

VWSD associate superintendent Eric Green, who was Warren Central’s principal when the project started in 2018, said the COVID-19 pandemic and unforeseen construction complications led to long delays in the project. There are still several small items left to complete in the gym and the school at large that he hopes will be finished by early 2024.

“COVID had something to do with that, with the supply chain and trying to get supplies in to finish the construction,” Green said. “And then we had that big water leak and it basically was in the heart of the gym in the old cafeteria. They found out about that in the fall, going into the rainy season, and had to wait until things dried out. That put us behind about eight months. But we are super excited that it is complete and we’re going to get to have a gym again.”

The new gym is located in roughly the same footprint, but bears no resemblance to, the one that existed for more than 50 years.

The court has been rotated 90 degrees, from an east-west to north-south alignment. At the south end, a glass wall provides a view of an atrium that will be used as a VIP area. An automatic steel door separates that area from the rest of the school.

The remnants of the old home stands are still visible in the atrium.

“When they turned the gym from its old configuration running west-east — it’s now north-south — they did that for aesthetic purposes,” Green said of the reason for the glass wall. “It’s going to be a little VIP area. We’ll have some seating and things like that once games get started.”

New lights, locker rooms, bathrooms and a concession stand have also been added. The gym’s capacity is about 950 people, slightly less than the previous version.

Perhaps the most intriguing — and controversial — feature of the gym are five support pillars that sit about 4 1/2 feet off the court and in front of the visitors’ bleachers.

The bleachers are located where the school’s old cafeteria once stood. A wall that separated it from the gym was knocked out but the support columns were left standing. Leaving them in place saved about $500,000 in construction costs, Green said.

The pillars are wrapped in padding to protect players who might run into them.

“That’s going to be a unique feature of our gym now at Warren Central,” Green said. “That was something when they revised the budget at the first of the project. It’ll just be something we and our opponents get used to in our gym.”

Although the pillars will take some getting used to, Warren Central’s athletes said their first impression of their new home was a good one.

“I grew up in the old gym. It’s different — good different. I like it,” senior basketball player Jonathan Henderson said. “I like how they spread everything out. They’ve got ninth grade locker rooms on this side and varsity on the other side. We’ve got a weight room back there.”

Mostly, the Vikings and Lady Vikes are just grateful to have a home again.

“We’ve been waiting for four years and it’s finally here,” senior basketball player Gaylon Turner said.

• The first event in Warren Central’s renovated gym will be its volleyball regular season finale vs. Pearl on Thursday night. A pregame ceremony will begin at 6 p.m., and the match at 6:45. Fans should use the school entrance adjacent to the football stadium. Signs and security will direct them through the corridors to the gym.
• Tickets are $8 and must be purchased online through GoFan.co

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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