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Volunteers working to re-open Hames

SITKA, ALASKA
Walk into Sitka’s Hames Center these days and you’re more likely to see brooms and dustpans than basketballs and gym shoes.

“We’re trying to get this place to look really great and clean,” says Judi Lehmann, who is hard at work near the pool door, sweeping the lobby. “The floor is kind of a mess right now. It’s dirty and there’s crud all over, but we’re going to get it all cleaned up and this place is going to look gorgeous. Probably the best it’s ever looked.”

Hames was run by the city from November 2007 until this past October, when voters rejected a ballot measure to buy the center. The building is among the parts of the college’s core campus that will be officially acquired by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp on February 1st. And during the times the camp isn’t in session, Hames will be open to the community.

But before that happens, it needs a little work. Not far from where Lehmann is sweeping, Cindy Edwards and Brant Brantman stand in front of a big whiteboard.

Edwards reads from one side, a list of projects marked “Now:” “A dump run, check out the vacuums, make them work, assemble the glass case doors, clean black scuffs off the wall…”

On the other side of the board is a list marked “Adopt a Project.” Those are more complicated things, like researching a big divider curtain for the gym, repairing ping pong tables, even setting the clocks.

Edwards: “What an idea! Synchronized clocks in a building like this. So we need someone to come and synchronize the clocks and make sure that they’re all running well and pop new batteries in.”

Brantman: “I think there’s an ordinance against synchronized clocks in a gym. Have you ever been in a gym with synchronized clocks?”

Edwards calls the repair plans “classy salvage:” trying to assemble a good-looking center from used materials that just need a little care. But some things need a lot of care.

Maybe the biggest open space at Hames is the gym. The floor here is warped, and you can feel where it bubbles and dips. You also can see it in the paint on the basketball court. That’s from years of moisture, coming from a leaky roof, leaky pipes, and from the ground. Work on repairing that is underway right now and includes flooring experts, plumbers, construction workers and more. Volunteers, like Kim Allred, can handle the simpler, but no-less-important tasks, like hanging a basketball hoop.

Allred used Hames three-to-four times a week, mostly to lift weights. The center’s closure was depressing he said.

“It’s been a long winter so far,” he said. “Two weeks ago, to hear that these guys were going to start to try to get this place open, was a good sign. Encouraging. And I thought well, anything I can do to help, I’m going to do it, so consequently, here I am today.”

Allred’s not alone. A book in the lobby that logs volunteer hours has pages and pages of names. All people who have walked in the door in the last few days to help where they could. Allred is a new set of hands for the effort. But for Grace Brooks, this work comes after years of effort to secure a future for the building.

Brooks was part of the Hames Task Force, which supported the measure to have the city buy the building. At the moment, she's washing the big metal doors that open onto a hallway next to the gym. After she washes the doors, they’ll be painted.

“And see all the furniture we have?” Brooks says. “It’s going to be a nice hangout place in the lobby. We’re even going to have wi-fi.”

As she talks about it, her face glows.

“It’s like, you know I came here Sunday just for a meeting at 9:30. I left at 5. I had no intention of doing that but the energy and the enthusiasm around here, you just pick up on it and want to be a part of it.”

So she scrubs and sweeps and sometimes makes soup to feed the volunteers, fully aware that there’s a lot of work to do, but hoping that when it’s done, they will have more than a community center.

“It’s a community,” she said. “This is really the people. This is the best solution there could have been for Hames and I worked on Hames for years. This is the ideal solution because it’s the people taking ownership, and every day you come here, the parking lot as so many cars you’d think the gym was open. It’s just people here working. It’s incredible. Yeah. I love it.”

Brantman, who is among those leading the volunteer effort to re-open the center, hopes to have it at least partially ready for the public by Feb. 1.

He says they’re raising funds and building a membership base again, and hoping for an official grand re-opening in the summer, after the Fine Arts Camp has closed up for the year.
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