Volunteers from Wacker Polysilicon North America and Yates Construction gave their time over the summer to renovate the space, which included a kitchen that was more than 40 years old.
Yates Construction, which is based in Mississippi, has been working to help complete the Wacker plant in Charleston, and project lead Charlie Brown said the company often tries to help the communities near its projects by completing a service project each year. Last year, the company helped the Benton Boys & Girls Club.
Brown, whose son currently attends Charleston Elementary, decided to ask Principal Jodie Grannan to make a “wish list” of improvements she would like to see at the school.
“I was thrilled,” Grannan said. “I always have ideas in my mind to improve the school.”
Given the opportunity to pick a project construction workers and engineers would do for free, Grannan decided she wanted to do something to give back to the teachers.
Grannan said it is harder to find people who want to do things to help the teachers than those who want to help the kids, so she jumped at the chance to redo a lounge with a kitchen area that had not been redone in many years.
The room currently used as a teachers lounge is located in a portion of the school that was built in 1959. Back when Charleston School housed high school students, it was used as a home economics classroom. Since then, the kitchen area’s appliances and cabinets had fallen into disrepair.
“Our teachers never complained,” Grannan said. “But they sure are going to love this kitchen. ... They are going to feel so important and appreciated.”
Brown collaborated with Donna Langford, a project engineer at Wacker, to recruit volunteers to assist with the renovation that took place over a few weekends over the summer.
Langford credited Brown and Yates Construction with the idea to help, and she said she and other Wacker employees were “excited to contribute.”
Volunteers took out the old finishes and replaced them with completely new ones.
Wood cabinets like ones that might be seen in a home replaced white industrial cabinets. Plain counters where replaced by counters designed to resemble granite. White walls were painted a bright shade of green. Old flooring was replaced with flooring that coordinated with the wood cabinets. Appliances that were said to not work well were replaced with new ones.
Some materials and appliances were donated by Lowe’s Cabinets and Lighting and Whirlpool, while the volunteers put on events like bake sales to raise money for the rest, in order to ensure the completed project was a gift to the school.
While she hinted the lounge was being redone over the summer, Grannan kept many of the details a surprise.
Cutting a crepe paper “ribbon” to christen the new space, Grannan revealed the lounge to the teachers for the first time Tuesday.
Looks of surprise and happiness adorned the faces of the teachers as they filed into the room for the first time since the renovation began.
Then, they erupted into applause as Grannan introduced the people responsible for the project.
Kindergarten teacher Erica Shamblin, a Charleston native, remembered using the kitchen as a high school home economics student.
She said the loved the new life the renovation gave to the old space.
“I think it’s happy and cheerful,” Shamblin said. “It is good for our school spirit.”
Fourth-grade teacher Julie Melton, who has also used the room as a high school student, described it as “breathtaking.”
Both said they knew work had been going on in the lounge over the summer, but they did not know so much had been done to the kitchen area.
Melton said the volunteer project was yet another example of people in the Charleston community doing something to help better its school.
“It’s very heartwarming that people care enough to give their time,” Melton said. “It means a lot to a small school.”
Charleston Elementary and all the other Bradley County schools start back Friday, and Charleston’s teachers will have a new place to enjoy breaks.
Grannan said she appreciated that someone gave their time to make the teachers’ space better for them.
“We have a great community,” Grannan said. “We just appreciate all the community support.”