The old Sistersville High School gymnasium is once again open for public use, operating as the Jim E. Willison Family Center.
The gym was built in 1923 as a school annex and is a nostalgic place for many residents of Sistersville and Tyler County, whether they played basketball or were in attendance at some of the many events held there. It had been closed for about nine months to undergo repairs on the damaged floor.
Over the years, water ran underneath and rotted the trusses until the weight of the bleachers eventually collapsed the floor. A 16-foot section, including joists, needed to be replaced.
Tom Eckel applies the finishing touches to a repaired section of gymnasium floor.
According to Parks and Recreation Commissioner Alexis Billings, former City Commissioner Vance Ash foresaw the problem and worked ahead to attain grant money for repairs. The two of them, along with other department heads, worked together to see the project through.
Present City Commissioner Daniel Grimes added that the damage was not without its up side. It gave them the opportunity to realize and fix other structural problems.
Repairs started late October under contractor Mark Ramsier and included replacing floor joists, a new sub-floor, new tongue and groove wood flooring, as well as a moisture barrier to keep it from rotting again. The project concluded Dec. 5 after Tom Eckel applied the finishing.
Billings believes the repair had to be done or the floor would not be repairable in the future.
"The upkeep is what's important," she said. "It's harder on it when nobody's there. It needs people in it. That's our goal, to fill it back up."
She plans to position a collage of the repair process at the front entrance so people can see the hard work that went into the project.
Mayor David Fox remarked that the top layer of the floor, most of which remained intact and untouched by water damage, was completely refinished three years ago by the same people who did the floors for the Final Four competition.
"We'd like to see some tournaments," he said.
Grimes mentioned that they already have men interested in starting a men's basketball league.
Billings commented that Sistersville resident and former W.Va. Delegate Jim E. Willison, for whom the family center is named, has kept an interest in the project.
"He wants it open for the kids just like everybody else," she said.
The family center will be open to public rental for parties, youth league basketball, and more. If anyone would like to rent or use the gym, contact Alexis Billings at 304-771-7551.