When walking into Ribeyre Gymnasium, located at 603 Main St. in New Harmony, Indiana, one can feel the history resonating with every step taken on the refinished wood floor. But the former prop from the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own” and a finalist for the 1986 film “Hoosiers” may have ceased to exist without the help of the Ribeyre Gymnasium Restoration Group (RGRG).
The gym, built in 1924, quickly was decaying and there were threats to tear it down. But a group of New Harmony School students formed the RGRG in 2001 after an invitation to undertake a community project. They ran meetings every other week with the volunteer board of directors, did their own research, and applied for grants.
Even when the school permanently closed in 2012, former students who continued their education at North Posey and Mount Vernon high schools kept the project alive and recruited more students.
“The alumni have been very supportive,” says RGRG Board of Directors President Rick Johnson, who is a junior high teacher in Mount Vernon and previously served as a teacher in New Harmony for 34 years. “This is the only attachment they have with the school closing. I’ll open it up for people who come back to see it.”
Johnson says more than $1 million has gone into restoring the historic building with the help of donations, fundraising, and grants, with a significant portion repairing the roof and windows. Jeffrey Koester’s company Koester Construction, 641 Third St. in New Harmony, with contributions from architect Mike Mohr, helped restore and maintain the gym. Other areas restored include the ceiling, front lobby, restrooms, annex, kitchen, and tower clock.
Air conditioning and heating also were completely funded by the New Harmony School Alumni Association, and sound control measures were completed in a two-step process, says Koester. A fire alarm system was implemented as part of the fire code approval, and the facility is now ADA compliant as well. Future plans include installing a water treatment system, fixing structural issues in the basement, and restoring the stage, which is expected to cost at least $100,000.
The RGRG uses the facility for various events, such as class reunions, craft shows, and auctions. It can hold around 400 people, says Johnson, and has become a popular venue for wedding receptions.The RGRG is continuing to raise money for upcoming projects, including hosting a 5K run on Oct. 17.
“If this closed, we’d have a real problem,” says Koester. “We wouldn’t be able to do our festivals if it weren’t for this building.”
For more information about the Ribeyre Gym Restoration Group, call Rick Johnson at 812-319-6749.