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HAEDC saves gym from wrecking ball

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Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

HARRIS, Iowa -- A grand re-opening of the Harris Community Gymnasium on Sunday gave members of the Harris Area Economic Development Commission an opportunity to show off the work they have completed in recent months.

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The gym, a former shop and lobby area, are all that remain of the once Harris Elementary School, located on the north end of Main Street in this small town in eastern Osceola County.

Members of HAEDC saved the newer portion of the 1915-era structure from the wrecking ball, hoping that it could be of some value and use to the town's residents. The gym, lockers and shop were added onto the school in 1953.

"Our interest was to have a facility for the community to use for basketball, wedding dances or fund raisers," said Roger Bosma, the man HAEDC members credit for much of the work done on the facility.

On Sunday, the group hosted a catered pork loin dinner and auction of donated items as a fund raiser for the community gymnasium. Funds will be used for continued projects in the building, including updating the electrical system and creating a kitchen.

Though Harris already boasts a community center, HAEDC members said there wasn't a facility to handle the 300 to 400 people the community gym can accommodate. Also, maintaining the gym provides additional space during the winter months, when basketball courts are in short supply for school students and leagues.

"There are two gyms in Lake Park, but it has been difficult to schedule (usage)," said HAEDC member Doug Stahly. "Having this gym is really good for that."

Interestingly enough, the existing community center in Harris was the first project of HAEDC, which incorporated during the mid-1990s to expand the small, two-stall fire station and create a community gathering place.

Their latest project, completing the community gym, has been one of the most challenging.

When the school district opted to close the Harris Elementary building three years ago, school officials approached the City of Harris about taking ownership of the facility. HAEDC stepped forward after the city declined the offer.

"We didn't want to see such a nice structure torn down," Stahly said. "If we hadn't taken it, the school would have demolished the whole thing."

The school district turned the building over to HAEDC at no cost other than legalizing the transfer of ownership. That took place a year and a half ago.

In the months that followed, the development group hired Ocheyedan engineer Mark DeVries to determine if the common wall separating the old and newer portions of the building could be saved. Demolition of the 1915 building began last fall and, although attempts were made to save the connector wall, the condition of the brick forced workers to rebuild a wall on what is today the east side of the building.

"The wall has been kind of a long process in coming," Bosma said, adding that construction of the new wall was completed a month ago and painted a week ago. Other completed work has been the installation of a new water heater and furnace and updates to the water and sewer systems.

"We haven't spent more than we've taken in so far," Stahly said. Volunteers from throughout the community provided much of the labor for the renovation, and several pieces of equipment have been donated for use in the facility.

"In a small town like this, most people farm," said HAEDC president Mark Dillehay. "We all tried to come in and help out the situation."

Throughout the renovation project, people continued to use the facility, playing basketball on the gym floor and even presenting a community musical on the stage.

Those activities, as well as receptions and auctions, will hopefully breathe new life into the community gymnasium. HAEDC members also hope to utilize the facility during the revived Labor Day celebration.

"We want to (give) back to the community -- that's what we've got it open for," said HAEDC treasurer Keith Klaassen.

Bosma said they're always dreaming of ways the public can use the facility.

"We've got room, we can expand," he said with a grin.

HAEDC members envision the facility could one day include exercise equipment and be a place for people to walk, especially during the winter months.

"It'd be a nice place to walk because the Harris Mall is always a bit crowded," Dillehay said in jest.

Harris boasts a population of about 200 residents or, according to Stahly, "Thirty residents during the day and 200 at night."

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