New gym floor part of Stephens-Lee rec center makeover

If the graduates of Asheville’s former Stephens-Lee High School could see the old gal now. She is gleaming under the glow of a makeover that will be unveiled during a grand re-opening of the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 6.
“The center has all new flooring and fresh pain on every surface,” said Ryan Seymour, center director. “And the gym has had a huge transformation.”

Closed for repairs in December, the Stephens-Lee Rec Center, at 30 George Washington Carver Ave., has a fresh look, including a new mural in the vestibule.

This is a building that honors its history and yet incorporates modern amenities. The lobby outside of the gym for example; it’s now “the wifi lounge.”

Inside the gym visitors find a shiny new floor coupled with new bleachers that will accommodate not only pickup basketball, but also youth league games. Yet a “memory wall” heavily carved by students down through the years on one end of the gym was preserved. The knotty pine tongue-and-groove wall features inscriptions by students from the Class of 1950, jibes from classmates and love notes between teenaged sweethearts. It almost reads like the pages of a yearbook signed by friends at the end of school.

Built in 1923, Stephens-Lee High School was for decades Western North Carolina’s only secondary school for African Americans. Students attended from not only Buncombe County but also from Henderson, Madison, Yancey and Transylvania counties. The rec center features an Alumni Room where former students still gather to celebrate the building’s history and their shared ties.

These days, the Stephens-Lee serves residents of all ages. It hosts a summer camp and after-school programs for elementary-age schoolchildren. It houses a fitness center filled with free weights, weight machines, elliptical machines, treadmills and stationary bicycles.

The gym floor has three pickleball courts marked off. A sort of hybrid tennis-ping pong game, pickleball is played with a paddle instead of a racket and the balls bounce on the floor rather than a table.
“People of all ages play pickleball,” Seymour said. “It’s very popular here.
Pickleball is offered three to four times a week.
In addition to the building itself, the rec center features two playgrounds and the Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Par, populated with blueberries, rhubarb, muscadine vines and apple and pear trees.

Renovation of the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center cost $300,000, including the price of a new gymnasium floor. Stop by during the grand re-opening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to see the improvements.

For information about programs, schedules and fees, visit or call 828-350-2058.