LUMBERTON — It now takes a few more trips up and down the court for recreation league basketball players to work up a sweat at the Bill Sapp Recreation Center.
The center, built in 1939 as an armory, had never had air conditioning until a few months ago. The high temperatures inside the building had limited its use during the summer and created concern among parents about safety for their children.
That changed in March, when the system was fully installed.
“It was in the high 90s in the morning. We had to open doors for ventilation,” said Larry Thompson, a center maintenance worker. “On a good hot day, it would be in the 100s, crazy hot. The gym floor would have moisture on it.”
An annual pancake breakfast fundraiser for the Kiwanis Club of Robeson/Lumberton takes place at the center, which is name for a longtime recreation director. An estimated 1,000 people come through the gym during each event. On a warm day, the heat could be intense.
“It was brutal in the summertime,” said Bruce Mullis, a Kiwanian and chairman of the Recreation Board. “Yeah, like an oven. They had the Sam Davis free clinics down there in the summer, and only had fans.”
It was a hot day that sparked the effort to get air conditioning.
“I was at a volleyball game three years ago, and parents were struggling with the heat,” Lumberton City Manager Wayne Horne said.
After the game, Horne spoke with Tim Taylor, city Recreation director, about the need for air conditioning. The idea was brought to the City Council, which approved engineering studies and then installation over a two-year process. The project bill of $150,o00 was paid for with capital dollars from the city.
“I give credit to the City Council for funding for this,” Horne said. “They saw the need, and were 100 percent behind the project. We really appreciate the council for their support.”
The difference is considerable, said Kriston Jacobs, Parks and Recreation Special Events coordinator.
“Parents are glad for air conditioning being in there,” Jacobs said. “There had been some child dehydration issues. This year there were very little problems.”
“It’s a huge change,” Taylor said. “It’s always been a concern for parents as being too hot. It may have been 110 degrees, and we just had exhaust fans.”
Mullis compared the previous experience as a young ball player to the current, cooler environment.
“I sure did sweat a lot, and lost some weight playing when it was hotter … ,” Mullis said. “People appreciate the city doing these improvements and upgrading facilities in town. It’s much nicer.”
“Our summer day camp, we had nine weeks of free play hours in the gym,” Jacobs said. “The A/C made a big difference over last year’s event. This year was comfortable.”
The children in this year’s camp were some of the first to enjoy the new air-conditioning system. Part of this year’s day camp was the showing of movies inside the gym on an inflatable movie screen. Jacobs said that could not have been done without the air conditioning.
“You can see the difference now for children. It’s more user-friendly,” Horne said. “You don’t mind being in there.”
Smith’s Refrigeration installed the six air-conditioning units that, combined, produce 360,000 BTUs of cooling power. The climate control enables the gym to be used for events that it could not host in the past.
“There can be more year-round activities, larger meetings,” said Eddie Smith, of Smith’s Refrigeration Inc. “It’s more efficient than before, and saves the city money.”
“It will be able to be utilized more,” Jacobs said. “It really has not been utilized in summer months. There was a four-month period that was open. We can rent it more, have basketball tournaments, formals, and churches meet. The Senior Olympics had a big difference over last year.”
“The Vertical Church had wanted to have services there, but it was too hot. Now they can use it,“ Taylor said.
With a change in the air temperature, the Lumberton Parks and Recreation Department has to change the perception of the Sapp gym from being an oven to a wide-open, cool facility with classes, tournaments and possibilities.
“It will take a while,” Mullis said. “When word gets out certainly they will have a lot of events. It’ll be booked up. The comfort level is better.”
David Bradley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or [email protected]