Baptist Builders help to restore historic Butler-Blanc Gym

Although summer means the mass dispersion of traditional college students from Carson-Newman University, its second oldest building is brimming with activity.

This is the fourth summer for volunteers through Baptist Builders to provide construction and renovation assistance to the Baptist institution. They are working on restoring historic Butler-Blanc Gym to its former glory.

“We at Carson-Newman stand in awe of Margaret and George Bradley, and Joyce and Everett Willis, as well as the Baptist Builders and volunteer laborers from Baptist churches, who serve the Lord and us tirelessly on our campus each summer,” said University President Randall O’Brien.

The Bradleys and Willises have been responsible for organizing teams of church volunteers over the past four summers.

“Carson-Newman is close to our hearts,” said Margaret Bradley, from Greeneville’s First Baptist Church. She said often times alumni are among the volunteers.

Tony Harrison is one such alum who travelled from his home in Crossville, Tenn. to assist with renovations.

“For me it is kind of a treat to come back because this is the first building I visited here on campus,” the 2000 church music graduate said.

Baptist Builders are volunteers from Baptist churches who use construction to minister and provide disaster relief. The Tennessee Baptist Builders are organized through the Tennessee Baptist Convention and often work in conjunction with the convention’s Disaster Relief teams, with many volunteers serving on both teams.

Bradley described the distinction as Disaster Relief teams being first responders and Baptist Builders coming to support the reconstruction and rebuilding of communities. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit, Baptist Builders traveled to the Gulf Coast. They have helped with tornado relief in Alabama as well as Greene County, Tennessee. Last year, they responded to devastating floods in Washington County.

Here on campus, volunteers are focused on repairing the gym’s old windows, refinishing sections of the flooring, painting, renovating its ceiling, and repairing the building’s concrete steps at its entrance.

In years past, volunteer church members from across the region have renovated Butler Hall, repaired campus benches, replaced sidewalks, and other campus improvements. This year, they have focused on one piece of the University’s history.

Butler-Blanc Gym was Carson-Newman’s first gymnasium, built in 1921. It housed a swimming pool in its basement, which was in use through 1960s, according to University Archivist Al Lang. Activities such as synchronized swimming are depicted in photos of the building, circa 1950s.

However, the pool is long since gone and the building has been in slow decline despite its continued use.

Tommy Clapp, Carson-Newman Director of B.O.L.D. (Basics Of Leadership Development), has used the building to house his co-curriculum programs. A bouldering wall was built recently and the basement — now water-free — is used for a low ropes course.

“The Baptist Builders were able to come in and do projects which were so overwhelming for us as a department that we never would have been able to have done it,” Clapp said.

The renovations mean Butler-Blanc can continue to be an integral part of Carson-Newman life. Clapp and several students constructed an addition to the bouldering wall and converted the overhead track for a biking course. Clapp hopes to one day add an indoor repelling wall.

Baptist Builders volunteers will be on campus through the end of June.