Red, White and New: VCHS gym’s ‘extreme makeover’ nearly complete

Despite its various charms, the Vandalia Community High School gymnasium had one glaring weakness during its first 57 years of existence: You’d never guess what the school’s colors were by looking at the place.

That won’t be a problem anymore.

A six-month project to renovate the home of the Vandals has neared completition. And the most noticeable outcome of the facility’s ‘extreme makeover’ is its overwhelming redness.

Imagine Busch Stadium on opening day. Seriously – it’s that red.

‘When people walk in, they will know our colors are red and white,’ said Vandalia Superintendent Rich Well. ‘We went from having very little school colors in the gym to having all school colors in the gym.’

Indeed, nearly every square inch of the gym is now either red or white. And VCHS boys basketball coach Kevin Jackson believes the liberal use of the school’s colors is the most appealing aspect of the new-look facility.

‘Our gym hosts a lot of guests throughout the school year and summer, and it should be a show of school colors and pride,’ Jackson. ‘I believe it certainly does that.’

But there are plenty of other new features throughout the facility that should stir up copious amounts of Vandals pride.

Other additions/updates include:

A new floor with a redesigned Vandals logo at midcourt.

New pull-out bleachers on the lower level.

Red plastic covers on the upper-level bleachers.

Hand rails along the aisles and screened-in rails along the front of the upper level.

Six new baskets.

A new sound system.

And a new roof and ceiling, featuring much brighter lights.

‘Everything was either replaced or painted, except the scoreboards,’ said Well.

So much has changed, in fact, that the gym is barely recognizable to a couple of guys who have spent more time there the past 20 years than just about anyone else.

‘For somebody who’s been here the last 18, 19 years, it looks brand new,’ said Well, who coached the VCHS boys basketball team in the original facility for 12 years.

VCHS Assistant Principal and Athletics Director Brian Kern agreed with Well.

‘When I walk in there, it feels like it’s not the same gym anymore,’ said Kern, who played and coached in the pre-renovation facility.

But even though the familiarity with their old stomping grounds is gone, both men are thrilled with the changes.

‘I think the project turned out very well,’ Kern said. ‘It’s got a completely different look, much brighter and more up-to-date. It was a much-needed renovation.’

Prior to this summer, the only alterations to VCHS’s gym since it opened in 1950 were the installation of new lower-level bleachers in the mid-80s and new scoreboards in the early 1990s.

Over that time, a number of small projects went unattended. By last year, those neglected small projects evolved into a big one.

‘Everything kind of came to a head,’ Well said.

The first alterations began just before last year’s graduation ceremony, and everything went according to plan from that point on.

‘They were telling us (it would be done in) mid-October, and they came real close to that, which is very unusual’ Well said. ‘It was also under budget, so we were real pleased with that.’

A vast majority of the renovations were paid through state Health Life Safety funds, including the roof, ceiling, lower-level bleachers and baskets. All renovations had to be approved and certified by architects, the Regional Office of Education, and the Illinois State Board of Education and district insurance carriers before Health Life Safety funds were allocated.

The district also received roughly $130,000 in grants to pay for the project.

‘No referendum monies were used,’ said Well.

According to Well, replacing the old floor was the most overdue renovation.

The old floor was installed during the Truman Administration, back when the school opened in 1950.

‘Most floors are guaranteed 30 years,’ Well said. ‘The gym floor had exceeded its lifespan. It’s something that probably should have been addressed maybe eight to 10 years ago.’

Kern agreed, ‘We got 57 years out of it, which is remarkable.’

Part of the painting of the walls was paid for by a state grant, while funds for the new sound system came out of the athletics budget.

The new midcourt logo is modeled after the University of Idaho’s. It replaces the old ‘Vandal head’ logo, which had proved to be somewhat controversial over the years.

‘Different people have different ideas of what the Vandal is,’ Well said. ‘We’ve had so many variations (of the Vandal-head logo), and there’s been no consensus.’

Well figures that if a major university such as the University of Idaho – which shares VCHS’s rare nickname – could not come up with a consensus caricature for its logo, the simple ‘V’ logo that school has adopted should suffice for Vandalia as well.

Plus, he says the new ‘V’ logo has drawn consistently positive reviews when the school has used it in the past.

‘We felt like right now, to be safe, that’s what we wanted,’ Well said.

Well indicated that the student body’s response to the new gym has been as positive as that of the coaching staff, which had input on the facility’s new design.

‘The kids are very cognizant of the fact that they have a new facility and I think they will treat it very well,’ Well said. ‘I think they’re very excited about it.’

The only downside to the project was that it spanned the fall sports season, forcing the VCHS volleyball team to play all of its home matches at VJHS while the gym.

The Lady Vandals didn’t seem to mind, however, as they put together a 10-3 record at the junior high gym.

‘We feel bad that the volleyball team didn’t get a chance to play in there,’ Well said.

‘But they had a very nice facility at the junior high that’s air-conditioned.’

A few minor tweaks remain before the project is 100-percent complete, including the erection of new team and individual banners (see graphic).

The project will hopefully be finished by the time the school hosts its annual ‘Red & White Night’ on Nov. 17, and Well believes even the skeptics will be impressed.

‘Not everybody’s going to think it was justified,’ Well said. ‘But those people don’t realize how many big events we have here. It’s nice to have a place that’s clean, up-to-date and bright for our kids to play sports and graduate.’

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