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9 years later, a gymnasium

The opening of Smith River School’s new gymnasium is the culmination of nine years of community efforts.
The opening of Smith River School’s new gymnasium is the culmination of nine years of community efforts. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
When they were kindergartners, a new gym was a goal to plan and raise money for. 

But as the eighth-graders, they bid farewell to Smith River School on Wednesday inside the new 10,000 square-foot building that dominates the grounds, its roof higher than other buildings in the area except for the church steeple across the street. 

“I’m just so happy and so excited for the kids and the community,” said former volleyball coach Elaine Fallgren. “This is pretty much a dream come true.”

Twenty-eight students graduated from Smith River School on Wednesday, celebrating with friends, teachers and family at the gym they spent their entire elementary school careers raising money for. The finishing touches, including its maple floor, will be added to the gym later this month, said Principal Paige Swan.

It was Fallgren who sparked the campaign to build a new gym in Smith River in 2004. Up until then, her team’s volleyball games were held in the school’s current gym/cafeteria. Students had to step outside the double doors to serve the ball, and parents had to stand on the stage or peer through the door to watch their kids play.

“I was getting more and more frustrated, and (a teacher) made a comment one day, ‘Well if you don’t like it, build a new one,’” Fallgren said. “He said it’s never been done, that they’ve tried it before, and nobody could follow through with it. I took it as a challenge.”

Principal Paige Swan checks out the new digs: “It’s been 10 to 15 years since we had a home game.”
Principal Paige Swan checks out the new digs: “It’s been 10 to 15 years since we had a home game.” Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Fallgren, who was also PTA president at the time, met with school and district administrators and formed a gym committee to raise funds. The committee, students and staff held tri-tip dinners, sold crabs and tamales, held silent auctions and other events to raise money to build the gym, Fallgren said. 

She and her daughter, Chealsy, attended Wednesday’s graduation ceremony even though they didn’t know the eighth-graders.

“If it wasn’t for the community buying that crab, or whether they wanted tamales or not, they would buy them,” she said. “Not one thing ever went unsold at a silent auction. It makes me cry. They have backed us 100 percent on this gym.”

Through countless fundraisers, the gym committee raised $400,000, Swan said. A $203,000 grant from the S.H. Cowell Foundation and a $60,000 donation from Smith River Rancheria also helped.

The gym project received a huge boost in 2008 when Del Norte County voters approved the $25 million Measure A school bond initiative.

The gym’s groundbreaking ceremony took place in July 2012 about two weeks after the Del Norte County Unified School District Board accepted a construction bid from Ausland Group of Grants Pass of a little less than $2.5 million.

Once the floor is in, 500 people will be able to sit in the gym’s bleachers, Swan said. And in another finishing touch, the school hopes to raise money for is a $9,600 sound system. 

The exterior of the new Smith River School gymnasium.
The exterior of the new Smith River School gymnasium. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The school will be holding a raffle ticket fundraiser to help raise money for the sound system, Swan said. The winner will get to shoot the first basket at the gym’s ribbon cutting ceremony, which will take place at Back to School Night next September. Up until now, the school has used Smith River Baptist Church for its basketball games, Swan said.

“It will be a great feeling giving back the keys to Pastor Alexander,” he said. “It’s been 10 to 15 years since we had a home game.”

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