By Allison Munn of KTRE Channel 9
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – The building is named after an Olympic medalist but the Earl Bell Center in Jonesboro has tarnished over time.
Now, thanks to some major upgrades, the city’s oldest recreation center has vaulted back to life.
For nearly seven months, the familiar sounds of dribbling and swishes were replaced with construction work.
“We’re really trying to upgrade all our facilities that are old,” Jonesboro Parks and Recreation director Wixson Huffsteler told Region 8 News.
Huffstetler said renovations on the 70-plus year old building have been underway since January.
A couple of guys who regularly played at Earl Bell before renovations are very impressed with the changes that have taken place.
“This is what it is right here,” George Banks told Region 8 News. “This is very good.”
Most noticeable is the brand new hardwood court.
“All the asbestos is gone, it was professionally removed,” Huffstetler said. “There’s a new subfloor underneath the hardwood here and the hardwood is on top of the subfloor.”
It’s a huge upgrade from the rubber court that had bumps and dead spots all over.
“Bubbles were everywhere, yeah!” Banks said. “We played through all that, we just wanna play.”
Banks said he and a group of friends would come to the Earl Bell center on a near daily basis to play basketball but pickup games in the summer were miserable.
“It was horrible! It was hot,” Banks said. “That’s why we’d try to get up here at 12 so it wouldn’t be as hot. Around 3 or 4, it was pretty cookin’ in here!”
“It stayed 90 degrees plus in here, sometimes 100 degrees plus,” Huffstetler said. “So the guys that would come in, they would play for a little bit but that’s all they could do.”
That is also no longer a problem.
“First time this building has had air conditioning since 1936 and it’s a big deal to us and hopefully to the public.”
Banks agrees, it is definitely a big deal.
“We gonna love this. When everyone be in here, we gonna love this,” Banks said.
The HVAC system, suspended above the court, did take a bit of time and money to put in but Huffstetler said it’s worth it.
“We’ll be able to go year round in here, pick up games, I’m sure, will be going constantly. I’m sure there’ll be a line now for this nice, wood floor court.”
Huffstetler said the flooring cost $43,000, the asbestos removal was close to $20,000 and the HVAC system was roughly $107,000.
The Earl Bell Center will be open to the public Thursday at 9 am. It will close at 9pm.
Though it will be closed on the 4th of July, the Earl Bell will be on it’s regular schedule after that.
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