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Renovated Florrie Chappell Gymnasium unveiled as GSW's new student recreation center

AMERICUS, GA (February 4, 2022) — The Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the newly renovated Florrie Chappell Gymnasium at Georgia Southwestern State University was held Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. The historic 83-year-old building has been brought back to life with this $3.5 million restoration, which began Fall 2020, serving as the new student recreation center.

The GSW campus community showed up for the ceremony in full “gold force,” along with several GSW alumni, retired faculty and staff, and community members recollecting their favorite memories of the building.

“Florrie Chappell has been a part of this campus since the 1930s, and today it’s going to start a whole new life with a whole new purpose, while still holding onto the tradition of what it is,” stated GSW President Neal Weaver, Ph.D. in his remarks at the ceremony.

The “Old Gym,” as it was so fondly remembered once the current Intramural Gym was built, was once the most utilized and loved space on campus. Completed in early 1939 at a cost of $65,000 (approximately $1.2 million today), the gym served as GSW’s primary athletics facility for decades, with a combined basketball court and auditorium space. It was the site of many concerts and graduation ceremonies, with the first held in June 1939. The basement contained a swimming pool and large recreation room used for dancing, games, and PE classes such as fencing and badminton.

“It was really important to us to honor the past with Florrie Chappell because it has such an incredible history at this institution and bring the modern feel to a place where students want to gather,” said Laura Boren, Ph.D., executive vice president for Student Engagement and Success led the renovation project. 

The familiar charm and character of the "Old Gym" can still be seen throughout the building in the original basketball flooring, windows, wood trim, wall textures, and antique leaded glass above the main entrance. Two old Athletic logos painted on the walls were preserved and framed, and original scoreboards will soon adorn the walls to retain the building’s history as a hub for the Hurricanes. The rafters on the ceiling were exposed to give a more open feel. The stage area, which was previously walled in, has been recaptured and now includes a large wall mural and locker rooms.

Positioned in a central and highly-visible location of campus adjacent to the University’s Centennial Plaza, the restored building is outfitted with top-of-the-line equipment for cardio, strength training and functional fitness including eight treadmills, seven ellipticals, 12 manual muscle machines, a functional fitness turf area and free weights area.

In addition to physical health, Florrie Chappell will also focus on health and nutrition, mental health, and other wellness initiatives. Two unique spaces separated from the fitness area by partition boards will allow students to recharge; the Helms Family Sports Bar and the Chill Lounge both include televisions, seating and charging stations.

“We are so happy to see something so historic come back to life on campus and to be a glorious testament of what GSW has to offer to the student body,” said Brandon Blue, president of the Student Government Association. “Not only will we be able to gain muscle and strength, but also more school spirit to keep shedding light on what this great university has to offer us.”

The state legislature put $3 million toward the total project cost of $3.5 million back in 2019 in House Bill 31, Georgia’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget. GSW provided the remaining $500,000 in private funds from donors.

The building was designed by Choate + Hertlein Architects of Atlanta, and Sheridan Construction Company of Macon in charge of construction. APCO Signs based out of Atlanta provided all interior room identification, dimensional letters, and custom wall graphics throughout the building. Advantage Sport & Fitness provided all of the fitness equipment, and Advent supplied all of the furniture.

The bottom level, which includes the beloved indoor swimming pool, will be renovated in phase two of this project.

Florrie Chappell is now officially open for GSW students, faculty and staff. Community memberships will be available Summer 2022.

The full Ribbon Cutting Ceremony can be viewed online at Georgia Southwestern’s YouTube.