HER FINAL YEAR: Buck Johnson talks with Carroll County Schools Superintendent Lisa James at a reception celebrating the history of the Carroll County Middle School gymnasium Thursday. Earlier in the day, James announced that she will be retiring. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
HER FINAL YEAR: Buck Johnson talks with Carroll County Schools Superintendent Lisa James at a reception celebrating the history of the Carroll County Middle School gymnasium Thursday. Earlier in the day, James announced that she will be retiring. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Carroll County school officials kicked off renovations to the middle school with a ceremony honoring the old and celebrating the new after breaking ground on the project Thursday afternoon.

Community members and school administrators met in the middle school gym where memories about the gymnasium - which was built in the 1940s when the school building housed all grades - was shared among guests and through video messages.

The gymnasium has hosted hundreds of school assemblies, dances and sporting events throughout the years.

In a video, former teacher Ann Deatherage said she remembered attending classes in the gymnasium as a student, being crowned queen during a basketball game and watching games throughout the years.

"It's been a community center for years," she said.

In other video clip, Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold "Shorty" Tomlinson remembered playing basketball in the gymnasium - and running up the walls to dunk baskets into the goals.

"This place means a lot to a lot of people," he said.

The $7.7 million renovation project at the middle school includes turning the current gymnasium space into classrooms and a band room, with a new gymnasium to be built on to the southwest corner of the school.

Other renovations include a new gymnasium lobby, outdoor classroom space and bus area in the back of the building.

Even though the gym will have another use after the construction project, pieces of the basketball court and the bleachers will be used in the new construction. Plans call for the basketball court seal in the center of the floor to be framed in the lobby with the wooden bleachers used as benches.

The preservation of items from the 1940 gym serves as another way the school district chose to honor the old while celebrating the new.

Superintendent Lisa James said work on the project will begin soon.

"You'll see some action in the next couple of weeks," she said.

Drainage work, installation of fencing and construction of a temporary bus loop will begin before the end of the school year, but most of the work will begin after school closes for summer break.

The Carroll County school board awarded the middle school project to Marrillia Design and Construction of Lexington last month. The project is expected to be completed in 2015.