Historic Portsmouth gymnasium renovated for the 21st Century

The former Portsmouth High School gymnasium, the last remaining piece of the original high school, has now finally completed renovations to turn this historic building into a 21st-century indoor athletic training facility.

The original gymnasium was built onto the former high school building in the 1960s, and was home to the district’s basketball games until the new high school opened across the street in 2006. 

“When we finished the new school, Clay Johnson, who worked on funding, asked me what I'd like to do now. I told him it would be nice if we could have sports right here instead of all the way down to the old stadium. Clay and I got together and figured out a way to get the money for this Sports Complex, and they’ve got everything they need right here within walking distance,” said Project Manager Ralph Applegate. 

The $10 million athletic complex was completed in 2009, but the old gymnasium remained standing and was used for youth league basketball and junior high practice. 

“About a year ago we started talking about turning it into a training facility. The coaches would come over and practice in here in the old setting but we wanted to meet the needs of all the teams and we decided it would be a good training center,” Applegate said.

The bleachers of the old gymnasium were removed and the mezzanine areas were set up with batting and pitching cages and a golf simulator. The lower level, formerly the basketball court, was covered in turf where players could practice year-round regardless of the weather. There’s a running track, treadmills, ellipticals, and more inside the newly repurposed gymnasium. 

The facility is now being used by football, baseball, softball, golf, soccer, track, cheerleading, and band.

“This gym has changed so much. It used to be the gym floor and we couldn’t use real balls in here,” said Softball Coach Kristen Bradshaw. “Our season starts in the middle of February and normally we’re in the gym practicing. We wouldn’t be able to throw a real ball until we were able to on the field outside, so being able to throw and hit real balls inside helps us prepare for the start of our season. We can put a whole infield in here and get some good work in.”

She said the tournaments and many other schools in their conference already play on turf, so the new indoor facility will help her team get used to playing on turf.

“I’ve had up to 26 kids coming in for open-hitting. In the past that would have been a problem, but now I can split them up into groups and I can have defensive work and base running work that involves a real baseball,” said Baseball Coach Aaron Duncan. “I usually have to get my work done outside, and the weather doesn’t always cooperate. I’ll be ahead of the game defensively from where I typically am.”

He said the 94-foot-long gym allows him to practice with his players at full-length distances for realistic throws. There are strength training bands on the walls for players to warm up their arms for pitching, and all the equipment needed for intensive athletic training.

“We asked all of the coaches what they needed and we got what we could to help them. We built this around their needs,” Applegate said. 

The indoor turf training facility is unique to the area and has already gained the attention of outside groups, such as colleges and other adult leagues, that have asked to use it for training.

For more information about Portsmouth City Schools, visit them online at www.portsmouthtrojans.net, or follow the school’s page on Facebook.