It’s been a humming hub of hustle around the Finley Gym complex the past few weeks.

While unusual, the local community treasure is reawakening to the possibilities of the future as an excavator and dump trucks haul out sections of the old Socorro High School to the city landfill.

It’s called progress and making way for an exciting community center complex built from the solid foundation of a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project.
Built in the late 1930s with New Deal funding, Finley Gym is a part of the city’s historical fabric.

If the walls could talk, it would more than likely be clamoring tales of classroom antics and academic adventures.

The old building was Socorro High School from 1939 until the spring of 1969 when the high school shifted to its present location, and it continued in use as the junior high school until Sarracino Middle School opened in 1986.

Socorro Schools wanted to sell it to the city for more than $300,000 in the late 1980s. The city wanted to buy it mainly because of the fantastic gym … but they didn’t want to pay the hefty price. The city wanted it for free.

At one point, the city discussed moving city hall into the facility. That didn’t happen either.

Eventually, the city did buy it mainly because it had a great gym that could be used for recreational activities for youth. For 20 plus years, there has been an active hive of community events and youth sports including youth basketball, adult volleyball, etc. For a time, there was even men’s basketball … but it got too rowdy, and it had to stop.

Yet as busy as the old gym had become, much of the old school building remained unused and in scruffy disrepair. Old classrooms had become cluttered with debris after years of neglect.

Piecemeal renovation
Bit by bit, the city workers and volunteers tried to reclaim some of the classrooms, whenever money became available.

In 2018, former Recreation and Youth Center Director Cindy Rivera organized fund-raising tournaments which raised more than $5,000 to pay for the sanding and refurbishing the gym floor. About the same time, New Mexico Tech, which was remodeling its Macey Conference Center, donated 180 chairs which were installed on top of the gym’s hard cement bleachers.

In 2020, $100,000 in state appropriations were used to add modern restrooms to the facility’s main floor, providing an alternative to the old restrooms located in the dungeon-like area beneath the gym.

Working with local legislators, the city eventually did receive money to upgrade the heating and cooling systems. Yet, the piecemeal renovation was far from done.
The challenge has always been finding the money to fund the future of the Finley Gym complex. Several years ago, estimators believed it would probably cost almost $5 million to return the complex to its former glory. Funding would have to come from several sources at the state and local level.

The current phase of the project is estimated to cost about $1.8 million, which includes money banked from 2023 and money to be received, hopefully, in July 2024.

Construction ongoing
Progress means construction work. And construction works means lots of loud noises and dust in an area surrounded by the public library, residential housing, churches, courthouse, and police station.

In February 2023, Albuquerque-based NCA Architects and Planners delivered a plan for the Finley gym complex to become the Socorro Community Center.

In August last year, Socorro City Council reviewed the plans and gave its seal of approval to move forward with the demolition of a portion of the building and creating up to a dozen new parking spaces. Other upgrades included in this phase of the project include landscaping of a courtyard and gates for foot traffic, which would create a public-friendly facility.

City of Socorro General Services Director, Lloyd Martinez, has been the witness and overseer of the Finley gym reawakening for the past 39 years. This project has personal meaning. He attended junior high in the old building in the mid ’70s. He remembers attending school dances in what is now the Finley complex and the day in May 1976 when heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad “I Am the Greatest” Ali stopped by the junior high to visit with students.

Today, Martinez is making certain the project stays on target.

“We had a quote for $240,000 for the demolition part of the project we’re doing now. However, we decided to rent an excavator and use two A-1 Quality trucks to haul the debris to the city landfill,” he said. “It only cost us about $20,000 to do the demolition project our crews to do it. We’re trying to save money anywhere we can.”
Within the next three weeks, the city will be hauling in dirt to bring the property up to grade before work on the rest of the buildings will start.

Until then, the Finley Gym complex will continue its resurrection.