WMC gym to be rebuilt by June Campus landmark heavily damaged by Dec. 31 blaze; Contractor hired; Interior demolition, rubble removal almost finished


Five weeks after a spectacular five-alarm fire all but destroyed the old Gill Gym, Western Maryland College plans to rebuild the 58-year-old campus landmark.

The contractor who renovated the college's library has been hired to rebuild the gymnasium and work should be completed by June 15, said Donald W. Schumaker Jr., a college spokesman.

The college has hired Henry H. Lewis Contractors Inc. of Owings Mills, who did an award-winning $10 million expansion of Hoover Library in 1991, he said.

Although plans are not complete, the reconstruction of the gymnasium will include an entrance for the handicapped and possibly a large multipurpose room in the basement.

"It will be rebuilt as Gill Gym," Schumaker said. The outside walls were found to be structurally sound, although a front gable must be reinforced.

The building was insured for $2 million and insurance adjusters and engineers are completing reports, Schumaker said. The college also has a flexible insurance policy to cover increased costs needed to comply with new regulations, such as federal guidelines for providing handicapped access.

The rebuilding will begin after INRECON Inc. of Detroit, a disaster-response company, has completed its work, Schumaker said. An INRECON team from Adelphi has nearly finished the interior demolition and removal of rubble.

Last week, the physical education faculty moved back into its offices at the front of the building and the ROTC staff expects to be back in its old offices next week.

The old gymnasium was completed in 1938 for $75,000 and named for Robert J. Gill, a 1910 graduate, outstanding athlete and trustee. Its 80-by-115-foot floor was called at the time one of the finest in the East.

But no intercollegiate events have been held there since it was renovated as part of the new Gill Physical Education Learning Center complex in 1984.

In recent years, the old gym had been used to house the physical education faculty, coaching staff and the military-science department, and for physical education classes, intramural competitions, and summer programs.

The New Year's Eve fire began in the basement and exploded through the roof when it reached the open area of the old gymnasium, destroying offices, equipment, records and memorabilia.

Fire investigators pinpointed the northeast corner of the basement as the source, but the amount of destruction left little evidence to reconstruct the cause. The investigation continues.

"Technically, it will never be closed," said Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor.

"We're hoping that someone on the staff will remember something about that particular area of the basement that could give us additional clues as to how the fire started," he said.

More than 200 firefighters from 15 volunteer companies in Carroll, Baltimore, Frederick and southern Pennsylvania counties battled the blaze, which was spotted by a painter arriving for work at the building at 7: 15 a.m.

His warning was credited with helping to contain the fire to the old part of the complex. Only smoke cleanup was needed in the new gymnasium.

"There wasn't one department on the campus that did not have access," Taylor said.

"Almost every small campus, I'm sure, in this country has an area like that where used furniture and things like that are kept."

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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