Visitors of the Cumberland County Playhouse have long used the walkway near the exit for transit after shows, and thanks to a gift from a former board member and a partnership with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, the passage recently received a facelift.
“We used to have a wooden walkway here where the audience came out,” said Sam Hahn, Playhouse tech and concert producer. “It was very unstable, and was not in the best of shape. It was built when the building was built in 1965.”
The walkway’s renovations were a vision and dream of the late Phil Hodge, who was a board member at The Playhouse before his passing in 2019.
“Phil Hodge had done many projects for us,” Hahn said. “This was his way of donating to us. He was a structural engineer. This was his next project he wanted to do.”
“The design was done by Phil, who was a licensed professional engineer at his company, HABCO,” said Clifford Wightman, president of TCAT Crossville. “Phil and his wife Margie pulled this project together and made this happen.”
The Playhouse contacted TCAT Crossville to see if it could be a project to let students gain hands-on experience in their trade.
“Rick Palmer out at TCAT wanted to finish his project and honor his (Hodge’s) word,” Hahn added. “He wanted his students to have this real-world experience of putting this together.”
“Our welding instructor Rick was an iron worker by trade for many years before starting with us,” said Wightman. “His expertise along with our Building Construction Instructor Ricky Smith’s knowledge of forming foundation piers and concrete walkways made the project a great learning tool for our students. I think the greatest asset at a TCAT is the instructors prior work knowledge before becoming an instructor.”
Also assisting on the project was board member Bucky Burke, who did the excavation.
Volunteer efforts and donations are vital to the Cumberland County Playhouse, especially in a year filled with cancelations due to COVID-19.
“This is critical for us to maintain having audiences in our facility,” Hahn said.
The project is the product of nearly two years of work.
“It originally started back in 2018,” Hahn said. “You have to go through all the state licensing, and they have to look at everything.
“We had to get everything from the school, then COVID hit,” Hahn added. “We have to go by the school’s schedule.”
“This has been a great project,” Wightman added. “We were asked to look at helping with this project back in the spring. COVID derailed us somewhat, but the project finally got started and tuned out great.”
Hahn and The Playhouse staff are grateful for the assistance from TCAT, as well as the opportunity for the students.
“It’s great,” Hahn added. “How often do they get a chance to come in with their instructor and take the time to really understand how these things go together?
“And Rick is an excellent teacher,” she added. “He gets in there with them, and gives them the credit when they’re ready to build something. I’m not worried about the structural integrity, because I know he’s taught them well.”
“This kind of project is what we like our students to be involved with,” Wightman added. “It’s a real example of what they can expect when they leave us and enter the workforce.”