MOUNT VERNON – After one of his last open gyms at the high school in late April, Bob Cimmino was asked to identify and mark the dead spots on Mount Vernon’s iconic hardwood. He knew them well, so armed with two rolls of colored tape and a handful of teenagers, Cimmino embarked on the task of determining whether or not the district could salvage the floor for the upcoming renovation.
“It looked like polkadots, like freckles,” said Cimmino, Mount Vernon’s boys basketball coach and athletic director. “We just kept putting tape in different spots. A kid would run over with a basketball and say, ‘Coach, here, here, here. Here’s a dead spot. Here’s a dead spot.’ We put Xs all over the place. When central administration saw what we had done, I think they scratched their heads for a minute and said, ‘We’re going to patch this?'”
And with that, what began as a fairly comprehensive renovation anyway became that much more extensive. The result is stark: Mount Vernon’s famed high school gym has undergone a complete transformation for the first time since it was built in 1963.
The gym project, which began May 1, is one part of what superintendent Kenneth Hamilton has dubbed his “20/20 Vision.” High school principal Ronald Gonzalez said the visibility of the basketball program and the athletic program in general has heightened its relevance to Hamilton’s mission.
“It is the epicenter of the district,” said Gonzalez, who expects the gym to be fully operational when school opens Sept. 7. “There are two things people think about when they think about Mount Vernon: the alumni, the actors we’ve had and basketball. It’s no secret that when the winter comes it’s a shot in the arm for all of us. The school just feels different. The atmosphere in the classrooms and the hallways, it’s just different. There’s a real sense of pride.”
Come this fall, it will look different. That much has been accomplished already with a new floor (still unfinished), new light fixtures, a new speaker system and new bleachers. The new seats have have been embossed with logos big and small to match the golden Mount Vernon Knights logo and even included 25 VIP seats behind the home bench.
“I will miss some of those dead spots on the floor,” said Cimmino, who has chronicled the project’s developments on his Instagram account. “We ran certain plays in some of those dead spots. We had an advantage. Now it’s just straight up. But it’s going to be a beautiful place to play. I marvel about how much the district is caring.”
Gonzalez said the renovations will serve more than just the basketball program. The motorized dividing wall that separated physical education classes had broken and will be replaced by a retractable curtain. The revamped space should also allow the school to host events like volleyball and wrestling tournaments, which the gym had been unfit to host in the past.
Gonzalez said funding for the gym renovation came from an EXCEL bond passed before he became the principal in 2011. (Voters passed a proposition for an EXCEL bond in 2009.) It is separate from the $108-million bond passed in March that earmarked funds for the majority of improvements in Hamilton’s ambitious plan.
“What I’m very happy about and pleased with is that this is not the end,” said Gonzalez, who couldn’t provide a figure for the cost of the project. “It’s the beginning.”
The school has no definitive plans set, but Gonzalez expects to host an event to christen the new gym in September and another during the start of the basketball season. Cimmino said all of the old banners will be secured in Plexiglas, and they and the retired jerseys will be repositioned.
“It’s refreshing,” Cimmino said. “It’s like you open the window in a stale classroom. You feel revitalized and you can’t wait to get at it. I’m anxious to see how our players take it. They use the terms bouncy and how they’re going to bounce off the new floor. That should be special. I think they’re proud already and I think they’ll be even prouder.”