Work on a Martin Housing Authority plan to restore the old Martin Junior High School Building on North McCombs Street is progressing, thanks to volunteers from the community.
On Friday, Community Developmental Services clients Danny Simmons, David Wise, William Hagler and their supervisor, Jeff Smith, joined MHA officials and students of UT Martin’s arts department in a joint effort to clean and prepare space for an art gallery in the old school.
The gallery will house an exhibit by six UT Martin students that will open Monday from 5-7 p.m. to help promote the work being done on the building.
“It’s just a night where people can come in and see this project, hopefully give donations to this cause, and also see the art that the university is doing that kind of ties the community together,” said student volunteer Jordan Phillips.
MHA eventually plans to open a new community center in the building, which is owned by the City of Martin, but will be MHA managed, according to construction supervisor Brad Harris.
The center will house a number of programs, including after school. One after-school program is already using the gymnasium occasionally, according to MHA official Christy Robinson.
She hopes involvement in the center will increase.
“Where the building is located, I think, is a great asset to the community,” Robinson said. “We don’t want this to just be a city project or a Martin Housing Authority. We want it to be a community project as a whole.”
Clients from CDS were also working in the building on Friday, sweeping, dusting and removing debris.
Smith explained they often volunteered at nursing homes in the Martin area, but that this was their first time working at the future community center.
Robinson said CDS had approached the MHA a few weeks ago with interest about the project.
“They are doing a new initiative where they want their clients to work more in the community as far as volunteering different places – eventually part-time employment in certain places,” she said.
Both Smith and Robinson indicated that CDS would be returning to help with more work after next week’s art show.
Part of the idea behind the art show promotion was to showcase the need, as well as the future benefits of the center, volunteers said.
“Really, it’s so people can see what we saw when we came in here,” Phillips said.
“When we got in here, at first we saw this space and, yeah, it’s dirty and it needs a lot of TLC. But, you know, there’s so much potential. And this space, especially where it is, would be so wonderful. We’ve had people drive by and say, ‘we really hope you’ll keep it up, this would be great.’”
The UT Martin students have been working on the room that will showcase the exhibit and the hallway leading to it for about a week, according to volunteer Kayla Turner.
“It’s improved tremendously just from us cleaning up some of it,” Turner said.
“When we first came in, it was pretty crazy. We had to walk all over things. Lots of ceiling tiles were in the floor. Where they had started working there were construction lights and wires everywhere. It looked pretty scary.”
Harris noted that much remains to be done on the project, now entering its second year. The to-do list includes electrical and plumbing work, repairing windows, cleaning up damage from water leaks and continuing to clean up trash.
“We (MHA) take care of the major stuff and the volunteers help with the cleanup,” Harris explained. He noted that around 10 dumpster loads of trash and debris had already been removed from the building.
Harris said repairing the leaky roof was the major project, costing “something like $10,000” to patch. “We’re working on grants to help pay for that,” he added.
“Of course, funding is hindering stuff,” Robinson added. “We can’t do anything much in here with a roof that’s still leaking. So basically that’s where we are right now.”
Robinson encourages the public to show support by attending the art exhibit opening Monday and to make donations to the project at www.martinhousing.com or to call 587-3186 if anyone is interested in volunteering.