Wall knock down opens rec area

by: SUSAN MATHENY - Volunteers from the Skanska construction firm take down an upstairs wall at Westside to open the Kids Club's recreation room to the gym below. Removing the wall also improved ventilation in the upper gym.The Westside Building got some expert remodeling work done for free last week when eight volunteers from the Skanska construction firm, including two project managers and two project engineers, showed up with tools in hand.

The Jefferson County Kids Club, which uses the cafeteria, gym and upper gym areas of Westside, wanted the wall between the gym and upper gym knocked out. The upper area serves as the club’s recreation room for its 412 members, and daily attendance averages 220 kids.

“The ventilation and the sound level was horrible up there and this work will help,” said Kids Club Director Joe McHaney. With glass bricks on one wall, he said the boxed-in, unventilated upper gym got so hot in the summer that they couldn’t even use it.

The Skanska firm is the manager/general contractor of the in-town construction projects for the 509-J School District, including the Madras Performing Arts Center and the new Madras High School stadium, football field and track.

So, the Kids Club contacted them to provide overall cost figures for the club’s planned upgrades, before it contacted someone to do the work.

by: SUSAN MATHENY - Fresh air flowed between the upper and lower levels of the gym after the wall was removed. Plexiglass panels will be installed on the rails.After an hour-long walk through of the building, Skanska gave an estimate for the demolition and construction work, then offered to donate the first portion (worth $4,000) for free as a way of giving back to the community.

“When the company offered to do this for us at no-cost, we were blown away; I was not expecting that at all when they met with us,” said McHaney, adding, “We receive no public funding whatsoever. We have to raise all of our own funds, so this means the world to us.”

Skanska project manager Julie Hyer commented, “We are already working on various projects with the school district in Madras, and we thought this would be a way to impact the most people. Jefferson County Kids Club is doing great work. It’s impacting children and families, 80 percent of which are low-income. It’s the right thing to do.”

Hyer was one of the volunteers helping to tackle the upper wall with giant crowbars and hammers, and pack off piles of insulation and pieces of plywood.

The wall was constructed in about five sections, and as each section came loose, five men gathered to lower it to the floor by hand. As soon as the first section came down, fresh air could immediately be felt circulating between the two gym levels.

The old metal railing, which used to be in the balcony seating area of the gym back when it was Madras Union High School, is still there, and the railing will be lined with plexi-glass panels to keep balls from bouncing from one level to another.

“This will also open things up visually,” McHaney said, noting kids can be supervised from both levels and they won’t feel so boxed in.

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