By Gary Gray
The latest phase of Freedom Hall Civic Center renovations has given new life to the center’s pool, and much-needed upgrades to its concession areas and concourses.
“This is a 100 percent upgrade as far as aesthetics, and we’re very appreciative of what city officials have done,” Chris Coraggio, Science Hill High School, Liberty Bell and Barracuda Swim Club swimming coach said at poolside.
Aesthetics? Absolutely. But the fixes resulted from the need to repair a leaky HVAC system, which produced heavy humidity, a pool surface that had deteriorated, a “deck” or walking area that had water damage and was cracking and peeling and a desperate need to refurbish bathrooms, office and storage space.
The pool re-opened Aug. 21, and concessions and concourse work is nearly complete.
Johnson City commissioners approved this phase of construction several months ago when they voted unanimously to use contingency funds from the contract with BurWil Construction to make major renovations and upgrades to the 43-year-old facility.
“The old paint in the pool was professionally stripped and repainted,” said Sam Miller, recreation services manager at the Johnson City Parks and Recreation. “The old pool deck coating was removed, the concrete was patched and five coats of quartz-filled epoxy resin containing a polyaspartic (chemical resistant) material were applied. The old deck was breaking up, and it looked horrible.
“The HVAC was completely replaced, and the duct work is made from a woven material instead of aluminum. They call it a ‘duct sock.’ The problem with the old aluminum was condensation. Prior to this, it would almost be like it was raining in here.”
The pool area, which is on the ground floor of the center’s south side, also is getting new paint and doors for its office and storage areas. The entire ceiling also was repainted. The pool has six lanes and an L-shaped area for activities in a shallow water height.
“The total project for the pool painting, refurbishing four concession stands, refurbishing the outer concourse and arena concourse comes to about $297,000, increasing the total contract for BurWil to $ 3,543,776,” said Charlie Stahl, Johnson City assistant city manager. “These funds were available from the remaining balance from the total Freedom Hall Civic Center project budget of $ 11,998,861.”
The pool remains a schools-first operation, with students using the facility Monday through Fridays from 3-7:30 p.m. A public Kayak roll class takes place on Tuesdays from 7:30-9 p.m.
“We have a period from 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays when the pool is open to the public,” Miller said. “We also rent party rooms, which are used for birthday parties, CPR instruction and various training classes.”
Meanwhile, large plastic sheets cover much of the civic center’s seating while concourse refinishing is completed. The inner walkway — the circular path inside the arena at mid-level — has been redone, and a material similar to that on the pool deck has been used. Workers are removing the old finish on the wider, outer concourse, which is expected to be repainted within a week or so.
The four concession areas which face outward along the outer concourse, also are being revamped. The floors have been completely redone. They also received new paint, and new electric aluminum roll-up windows have been installed.
“It’s really looking nice, and the improvements will be a big help,” said Bobbie Shirley, the center’s box office manager. “It will make the center much more attractive for patrons using the facility.”
Last year, Freedom Hall’s 5,437 fixed seats were replaced bringing to 5,965 the total number of cushioned, body-friendly human holders when the 528 telescopic seats are included. These additions helped reel in more East Tennessee State University basketball fans. The university is in its third year of a five-year contract with Johnson City to play its home games at Freedom Hall.
Other parts of the nearly $12 million upgrade at the center include additional restrooms, a new elevator, new heating and air conditioning and new arena hand railing. The HVAC project alone came with a $6.7 million price tag.
BurWil also won a $3.2 contract to perform re-roofing, renovation of existing restrooms, the addition of new restrooms and other improvements, including a new sound system replacement and installation of a handicapped/freight elevator. This work is complete.
The center also now has two new family restrooms. Its backstage bathrooms and showers were renovated, as was one girl’s and one boy’s bathroom in the school dining area. The Freedom Hall Pool restrooms, dressing rooms and showers also were completely redone.