SITKA, ALASKA Among those in attendance for the two-hour open house was Herb Didrickson. He played basketball for Sheldon Jackson School in the early 1940s, and is in the Alaska High School Hall of Fame. The gym at Hames was named for him in 2005. He says it’s great to see the gym in use.

“It seems pretty good, you know?” he said, sitting beneath the plaque bearing his name. “I wish I was young enough to take advantage of it, too. But I’m sure a lot of the townspeople will make use of this building.”

Hames closed at the end of October after Sitka voters rejected a proposal for the city buy the building. The public vote followed years of discussion at the Assembly table, and several renewals of the city’s lease on Hames. During the discussions, then-Assembly member, and now Mayor Cheryl Westover was among those who opposed spending more city money on Hames.

Westover was at Tuesday night’s opening, and said she saw all segments of the community there, including people who felt the way she did about city ownership.

“My hat’s off to the volunteers,” she said. “I know there are hundreds and probably thousands of hours involved. And quite frankly now that I’m not asking the city to pay for my exercise I’ll probably take out a membership.”

When it was announced that Hames would be included in the buildings given to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, volunteers went to work on repairs and renovations. Hames co-director Cindy Edwards, herself a volunteer, says there’s still a lot of work to do, but that having the building open now feels completely surreal.

“It makes me most excited about living in Sitka,” Edwards said. “I’ve always been in love with Sitka and the people of Sitka, but this is stellar. The amount of people that have come in the doors with their incredible skills and their open hearts and their willingness – it’s baffling. So I have a whole new level of appreciation that I didn’t think was even attainable.”

Hames is among 19 buildings on the core campus of the former Sheldon Jackson College that came under the ownership of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp on Tuesday.
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