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Architectural consultant Brian Templeton of Upland Design, center, speaks with Cleveland school board members George Meacham, left, and Peggy Pesterfield during a tour of the Raider Arena construction site at Cleveland High School. Raider Arena, projected to be completed in February 2016, will replace the school's landmark Raider Dome, which was demolished last summer.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Members of the Cleveland Board of Education and school administrators have received an up-close view of construction efforts on Raider Arena, Cleveland High School's new gymnasium.

Construction on the new gym began last fall after the summer demolition of the 50-year-old Raider Dome.

On Wednesday, Cason Conn, project manager for general contractor Tri-Con, escorted the education officials on a tour of the site, where steel ceiling supports now stretch across the top of the facility's high exterior walls.

"Overall, we're right about on schedule," Conn said. "There's still some hurdles to overcome, but we feel good about where we're at."

The project is between 35 percent and 45 percent complete, Conn said.

Stretches of bad weather have contributed to pushing the completion date from late 2015 to February 2016, officials said.

Concrete masonry and steel erection work is expected to be completed in about 30 days, Conn said. Exterior brickwork, which recently started, is projected to be completed in about 60 days.

"By the time school starts for next fall, our operations are going to be inside," Conn said.

Administrators already are making big plans for the new gymnasium.

"As it stands, we are planning to host our 2016 graduation in Raider Arena," said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools.

Raider Arena practically doubles the capacity of Raider Dome, with bleachers and temporary seating enough to accommodate about 3,500 people, Ringstaff said.

Overflow seating in the high school's nearby theatre also will be available, complete with live video coverage of graduation ceremonies, said Autumn O'Brien, principal of Cleveland High School.

School officials praised planning that has allowed the reuse of underground spaces that connect the new gymnasium to the existing school building.

Some of the ideas that evolved during the planning process have cut costs and added space, said O'Brien, citing the plan to convert an old underground fire escape route into a large storage area for sports equipment. This new direction actually saved money that would have been spent to fill the space with dirt, she said.

A fitness room, made possible through an anonymous $100,000 donation to the $11 million budget cap for the gym project, will repurpose old locker rooms, said Hal Taylor, director of maintenance and transportation for the city school system.

"It's going to be a great facility, and it certainly has plenty of space," said O'Brien, who long championed the inclusion of a fitness room in the project. "I'm a college athlete and I understand the importance of having this available for our students."

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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