Initially scheduled as a six-month project that began in 1999, the gym --- complete with classrooms and science labs --- took two years to finish as donations and volunteers ebbed and flowed.
The dedication on June 2 was the signal that the gym is finally complete.
"It's wonderful," said Ismail Muhammed, 17, a 6-foot-6 inch varsity basketball player at W.D. Mohammed High School, a private Islamic school in East Atlanta.
"Throughout the year, we had to use other schools' gym," he explained. "Really, we never had a home court," said Muhammed.
Mohammed won't get to play in the new gym before he heads to Georgia Tech, but, he said, "It's going to be good for the upcoming students."
The Mohammed Schools comprise Clara Mohammed Elementary School and W.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 Association of Colleges and the Commission on International and Transregional Accreditation.
Islamic scholarship is infused into the curriculum. Non-Muslims make up about 12 percent of the student body.
About 300 students attend the Mohammed Schools, operated by the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam. A masjid, or mosque, is where Muslims pray.
The East Lake Muslim community embarked upon a five-year refurbishing and expansion effort in 1997, as the 26-year-old school became 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: $2.5 million.
Now that the first phase is complete, work on the cafetorium and library should begin next spring.
Today, things are looking up in the old neighborhood.
An environmentally sound townhouse community complete with an organic garden now exists down Second Avenue. Across the street from that complex is Columbia Village, built by developer Noel Khalil of Affordable Housing Partnership Inc.
Up the road, across Glenwood Avenue, the East Lake Community Foundation, an independent community development group, continues to develop its 200-acre parcel, East Lake Villages. The sprawling apartment complex overlooking Charlie Yates Golf Course replaced East Lake Meadows, a housing project. Half of the 5,042 units in the Villages are reserved for public housing residents.
This fall, a state-of-the-art YMCA is slated to open, and Drew Charter School moves into new digs.
A second wave of gentrification has brought coffee shops and such to East Atlanta off Flat Shoals, several miles up the road from the golf course.
In the midst of a boom in real estate and community development, a school gym may seem like small potatoes, a simple goal. It wasn't.
Some Saturdays scores showed up to help; on others only a faithful few came.
The old Drew school gym, slated for demolition, was donated to the Mohammed Schools. A Capital City loan of $500,000 kicked off a pledge drive 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 came by," said Imam Plemon T. El-Amin. "He saw the school and decided to loan the money interest-free."
With the completion of the gym, the school's property is expected to double in value, to $2 million. It's important, said El-Amin, that the community feels a sense of ownership in the project.