June 14, 2001 (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)-- The Mohammed Schools on Fayetteville Road have dedicated a new gymbuilt by the school's own Muslim community.

Initially scheduled as a six-month project that began in 1999, thegym --- complete with classrooms and science labs --- took two years tofinish as donations and volunteers ebbed and flowed.

The dedication on June 2 was the signal that the gym is finallycomplete.

"It's wonderful," said Ismail Muhammed, 17, a 6-foot-6 inch varsitybasketball player at W.D. Mohammed High School, a private Islamic schoolin East Atlanta.

"Throughout the year, we had to use other schools' gym," heexplained. "Really, we never had a home court," said Muhammed.

Mohammed won't get to play in the new gym before he heads to GeorgiaTech, but, he said, "It's going to be good for the upcoming students."

The Mohammed Schools comprise Clara Mohammed Elementary School andW.D. Mohammed High School. Both are fully accredited by the Muslim American Shura, a governing body of Islamic doctrine and education,as well as the Georgia Accrediting Commission, the Southern Associationof Colleges and the Commission on International and Transregional Accreditation.

Islamic scholarship is infused into the curriculum. Non-Muslims makeup about 12 percent of the student body.

About 300 students attend the Mohammed Schools, operated by theAtlanta Masjid of Al-Islam. A masjid, or mosque, is where Muslims pray.

The East Lake Muslim community embarked upon a five-yearrefurbishing and expansion effort in 1997, as the 26-year-old schoolbecame in sore need of a face-lift. The three phases were: high school gym, six classrooms,computer and science labs, $500,000; cafetorium and library expansions,$1 million; office and classroom expansion, $1.5 million. Total price tag: $2.5million.

Now that the first phase is complete, work on the cafetorium andlibrary should begin next spring.

As the Muslim community took its area properties in hand, the EastLake Community Foundation and other area developers took notice of EastLake.

Today, things are looking up in the old neighborhood.

An environmentally sound townhouse community complete with anorganic garden now exists down Second Avenue. Across the street fromthat complex is Columbia Village, built by developer Noel Khalil of AffordableHousing Partnership Inc.

Up the road, across Glenwood Avenue, the East Lake CommunityFoundation, an independent community development group, continues todevelop its 200-acre parcel, East Lake Villages. The sprawling apartment complexoverlooking Charlie Yates Golf Course replaced East Lake Meadows, ahousing project. Half of the 5,042 units in the Villages are reserved forpublic housing residents.

This fall, a state-of-the-art YMCA is slated to open, and DrewCharter School moves into new digs.

A second wave of gentrification has brought coffee shops and such toEast Atlanta off Flat Shoals, several miles up the road from the golfcourse.

In the midst of a boom in real estate and community development, aschool gym may seem like small potatoes, a simple goal. It wasn't.

Some Saturdays scores showed up to help; on others only a faithfulfew came.

The old Drew school gym, slated for demolition, was donated to theMohammed Schools. A Capital City loan of $500,000 kicked off a pledgedrive for the three phases of expansion. Close to 200 volunteers signed on,including contractors, builders, engineers, electricians and handymen,to break down and rebuild the gym at the Mohammed Schools site.

"We were about to close on (another) loan when a wealthy Muslim cameby," said Imam Plemon T. El-Amin. "He saw the school and decided to loanthe money interest-free."

With the completion of the gym, the school's property is expected todouble in value, to $2 million. It's important, said El-Amin, that thecommunity feels a sense of ownership in the project.