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Construction has begun on new gym at St. Paul’s

The framework for the slab and plumbing are visible for the new gym being built on the 40-acre campus at St. Paul’s School in Covington. Opened in 1911, the school has been undergoing extensive renovations for more than a decade.

“It’s part of our master plan that we have been working on and off for about 10 years,” said principal Trevor Watkins.

The master plan has included renovation of Lasalle Hall – the former dormitory complex – into classroom and engineering space in 2013 and the renovation of Briggs Assembly Center, completed in 2014.

“The gym is our next step in the master plan,” Watkins said. “The reason that we needed this was our current facility was not adequate for our athletic and physical education program. We have outgrown the facility.”

Watkins explained that St. Paul’s is now classified as a 5A school by Louisiana High School Athletic Association, the largest-enrollment class, and thus needed more space to accommodate crowds for basketball games. The new gym will bump up seating to 1,100, compared to the old gym’s 850-seat capacity.

“It’s what we need to host playoff games,” Watkins said. “We were sensitive to neighborhood considerations, not putting more than we needed.”

He also mentioned the fact that with 865 students enrolled in eighth through 12th grade, the student body could no longer fit in the old gym.

“We’ve outgrown it,” he said. “We offer 17 different sports. We’ve needed this space for some time now. Our school continues to grow and has outgrown what is a perfectly usable athletic facility. We just don’t fit in it any more.”

Dedicated wrestling space
Watkins said building a new gym while retaining the current facility would allow dedicated space for a weight room and locker rooms, coaches’ offices and a training room. The current gym will be used mainly for wrestling. The current wrestling gym – a half-court gym – will be turned into the weight room.

“Those are the kinds of spaces that will come once we move the athletics out of the old gym,” he said.

The new gym will be adjacent to the current gym and will accommodate basketball and physical education by adding classrooms, office space for coaches, locker rooms and dressing rooms for P.E. and basketball.

Donahue Favret Contractors is building the new gym, and Fauntleroy Latham Weldon Barre is the architect, which also has designed several other projects on campus. Its cost is estimated at $4.5 million.

The facade of the new gym will be brick and metal siding, and the interior colors will resemble the current gym, Watkins said, a look the school likes. Its location behind the theatre building will be in a corner of the campus fronting 14th Avenue and Jefferson Street that will encourage use of another entrance to the school that has parking.

The estimated completion date is mid-September.

“We hope to be in by next year’s basketball season, provided there are no delays,” Watkins said.

The current sports complex is named after Gene Bennett, a former coach and athletic director, dean of resident students, basketball and baseball coach who had some role in all of the athletic programs at St. Paul’s. The school is accepting donations for naming rights of the new gym, Watkins said.

The school also is engaging in a study to add additional parking.

“We feel we need it for the campus,” Watkins said.

Other parts of the master plan include landscaping to replenish trees lost in Hurricane Katrina. Watkins estimated that since Hurricane Katrina, more than 250 trees have been added to the campus. Almost that many were lost during the storm.

“We have an ongoing reforestation program,” he said. “(The new gym) will be another excuse to add more trees.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion

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