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Terry Thompson, Lora Holbrook and Missy Thompson with one of the benches he made from the original wooden bleachers from the old Crab Orchard gymnasium. This bench will stay with the school, sitting outside the new gym between the trophy cases, bringing a little of the old school to the new school.

Before the original 1972 portion of Crab Orchard Elementary was torn down, the community gathered to walk down the hallways and recall their fond memories of school days gone by.

The event served as a farewell and a fundraiser for the Parent-Teacher Organization’s effort to provide funding for a new playground at the new school.

People could paint their name on a concrete block for $5. Pieces of the gym floor were sold starting at $20. People could submit bids for team banners and vintage athletic and cheerleading uniforms were pulled out of storage and sent to new homes.

The bleachers have found a new purpose, thanks to Terry Thompson, who has used the wood bleachers to make benches — complete with student carvings and even some authentic old chewing gum. 

“Forty-seven years ago, I put them down. Now, they wanted me to take them up,” he laughed. “But we took them up to make benches to sell for the kids.”

So far, 23 benches have been made and sold. There’s enough of the original wooden bleachers to make 4 or 5 more, he said. 

Terry Thompson is well acquainted with Crab Orchard Elementary. The land it sits on was once his family’s cornfield. His father, J.D. Thompson, sold the land to the county after Interstate 40 was built and cut the farm in two. 

He was part of the construction crew that built the school. His first day on the job included working on the wooden trusses to support the gym roof. 

His children and grandchildren attended Crab Orchard Elementary. 

HIs daughter-in-law Missy Thompson said her son, who is 11, came home saying his grandchildren may go to school there one day, too. 

“So they have to take care of it,” she said. 

The PTO has been working to raise money for a new library for two or three years, she said. 

“We knew it was in the works,” she said.

The playground had to be taken down to allow construction to begin on the new school at the end of the 2018 school year. 

Joan Thompson, Terry Thompson’s wife and school employee, said, “They’ve been without a playground for two years.”

Lora Holbrook, president of the PTO, said the playground fundraising has been a community effort, with support from teachers, students, families and businesses.

“We’ve done as many schoolwide fundraisers as we could along the way,” Holbrook said. 

Teachers donated the funds they raised during the annual Fall Festival toward the playground. The school also received donations from businesses in Crab Orchard and community organizations in nearby Fairfield Glade. They were also awarded a grant from the VECustomers Share program. Lhoist in Crab Orchard sponsored a 5K race with proceeds supporting the playground. 

A Pennies for the Playground drive helped kick off the effort.

“We were putting money back before, but we really started to focus on the playground. And our kids really stepped up and it made them feel like they were a part of it,” Holbrook said.

Missy Thompson said the benches have been a popular item. She launched the fundraiser with a quip that each came with a life-time supply of chewed chewing gum.

“It’s just a cool memory to have,” she said. “Crab Orchard was the only school to have wooden benches like that.” 

Anyone interested in purchasing one of the benches can contact Missy Thompson by calling the school at 931-484-7400.

The building and grounds committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education approved a proposal for the new playground equipment with funds raised by the PTO and community organizations. The BOE approved the request when it met Dec. 5.

“They asked that we get new playground equipment,” Principal Debbie Beaty told the committee when it met Nov. 12. 

The $60,000 proposal represents a turn-key project for the school, with installation included. The equipment includes two stations with multiple play options.

When the PTO began working toward a new playground, original estimates put the cost closer to $180,000. 

But Beaty said the project would represent a better value and more equipment for the school at a lower cost.

“We’re still raising funds,” said Missy Thompson. “It’s the one we can afford, but it’s still new and really nice.”

Director of Schools Janet Graham told the committee the school system has not provided playgrounds at other schools.

“I wish we could,” she said. “People are raising money all the time to add to their playgrounds or add another playground. We could not financially do that.”

Beaty said the Fairfield Glade Rotary Club had applied for grants to supply additional equipment for the playground. She will return to the committee with information about that in the future. 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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