Past and present members of the Cumberland County Commission and Cumberland County Board of Education gathered last week to explore the new Crab Orchard Elementary School building as the construction project closes in on completion.
“I’m thankful that we’re able to come together tonight to celebrate the Crab Orchard community,” Director of Schools Janet Graham said. “This school was very long overdue.”
Teachers and students moved into the new building in October with a flurry of excitement.
“They had many memories in the old building — mostly good,” Graham said. “We’re happy that in Cumberland County, we have the resources and the fortitude to do for our children what we need to do.”
Graham said she was thankful the Cumberland County Commission provided the school system with the resources to take care of the facilities for the students and community.
“I know this community is excited,” Graham said. “I know I am.”
Work began on the $10.5 million facility last July. The project added additional classroom space with rooms for art, music, teen living and agriculture classes, a science lab, new cafeteria and kitchen and gymnasium.
The new facility replaces the original 1972 facility that was plagued with problems including outdated wiring, ventilation systems and plumbing. The gymnasium and locker rooms did not meet standards for disabled access and the cafeteria and kitchen were too small for the school size.
The building had also been constructed using an open-pod design, a popular education idea in 1972 that did not use enclosed classrooms. That was soon changed with the addition of walls in the pods.
The county added a wing to the building in 2001. That included a new library and classrooms for the younger students.
The 2001 portion of the school remains, though the library has been converted to a multi-purpose room.
The original building has been demolished, and work is continuing on removing debris from the campus. Once complete, a few odds and ends are still needed on the new facility, such as the loading dock at the cafeteria. Portable classrooms are also scheduled to be removed.
A new roof has been installed on the 2001 portion of the school, and the brick is being painted to better match the new portion of the facility. Some doors and windows in the 2001 addition are also in need of replacing and some additional safety tiles were needed. The driveway will also be repaved once heavy equipment is no longer needed at the site.
Total cost of the extra items was $261,550, paid for primarily with contingency funds from the construction project since very little of the original $250,000 contingency budget was needed. The county commission approved the extra projects in September. The school system will cover the remaining $26,581 for the additional work.
Though not part of the construction project, work is also wrapping up on a new septic system at the school system. A field line repair project failed, leading to issues of grey water being on the surface.
The new project called for 14,000 linear feet of field lines across three acres.
Graham said the contractor reported the project was 98% complete.
“That’s been a long-time coming for the Crab Orchard community, as well,” she said.
Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster said, “What an example of working together between the school board and the commission.”
The school board presented its request for a new school to the county commission in January 2017. The county had already established its budget for that fiscal year. The budget committee of the commission requested the board return with a 10-year building plan.
“There were some concerns,” Foster said. He served on the budget committee at the time the funding request was presented. “We decided to work with them. When they first asked, we asked them to come back during the budget. They kept the project going There were multiple meetings with the commissioners asking questions.
“Before you knew it, there was a unanimous vote for the project.”
The 10-year plan included the Crab Orchard Elementary project and renovations at Cumberland County High School and stadium, which have been completed.
The plan also included a phasing out of portable classrooms in use across the county that included defining “available space” at elementary schools and developing a zoning plan.
The 10-year plan also include possible construction of an addition at an unnamed elementary school and construction of a new elementary school in the vicinity of the Crossville city limits. That plan is now almost three years old.
In addition to the long-range building plan, the board developed a building maintenance schedule to help with budgeting for ongoing facility needs, like paving, painting or floor repairs.
Graham said there were more projects on the horizon for the school system. This year’s budget includes a renovation project at Martin Elementary.
She added Crab Orchard was now the only elementary school in the county with an air-conditioned gymnasium.
“I guess that’s one of those things we’re going to have to start thinking about adding a school at a time,” Graham said.