Band director helps build playground

VOLUNTEER BUILDER. Hunter Mullins, center, directs the
Sevier Band during a spring concert. He recently volunteered
to help build a new playground at Johnson.

Gracie Flanary

VOLUNTEER BUILDER. Hunter Mullins, center, directs the Sevier Band during a spring concert. He recently volunteered to help build a new playground at Johnson.

Victoria Houser

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The Castle playground at Johnson Elementary was old and worn out, so the school raised the money to build a new one. Hunter Mullins, Sevier’s band teacher, recently volunteered to help rebuild the Johnson Elementary School playground.

Mullins went to Johnson Elementary, so it isn’t really a shock that he would have soft spot in his heart for his old school.

“My wife and I both attended Johnson,” Mullins said. “Our oldest daughter is a first grader there now. My wife’s parents were also a part of the original playground build.”

Mullins has several skill sets that made him a good candidate to be a crew leader.

“The PTO reached out to me personally to help,” he said “All of these factors made it an easy decision to join the team.”

Mullins’s band students seem to have handled his absence pretty well.

“There were a number of bumps, last minute schedule changes, and coverage issues that made it interesting,” Mullins said. “The students were never the root cause of minor problems that were faced. Dr. Flora was incredibly understanding to allow me this opportunity.”

Mullins, one of the volunteer crew leaders, had a busy schedule.

“I was a crew leader, which means that I was present for the entire build,” he said. “We ran three shifts of volunteers each day from 8:00am-7:00pm, Tuesday-Sunday.”

The core team had a safety meeting each morning at 7:00 am and was usually on site until about 9:00 pm each night. Stacy Edwards, Johnson’s Principal, allowed Mullins to come in at 6:00 am each morning to get some practicing playing the trombone in before the day started.

“My primary construction responsibilities throughout the build included pumping water out of nearly 300 holes across the site and redressing them to the proper dimensions, erecting both swing sets, building the perimeter fence, and installing benches and signage,” Mullins said.

The weather, being away from family, and getting back into a routine were all things Mullins had to deal with as part of the weeklong construction.

“The weather was not kind,” he said. “We had two or three days where it rained pretty hard nonstop. This led to lower numbers of volunteers for certain shifts. Staying warm and dry was tough. The hardest thing for me was not seeing my girls for basically an entire week. The next hardest thing was getting back to the normal routine. Projects of this size and emotional investment can leave a big void when they are completed.”

Many people worked together to get this project done, and get it done fast. There were three men from the design company, Play by Design, including Lee Archin, the owner. Archin and his father actually designed the previous structure at Johnson.

“Nate and Pierre were our other two design team members,” Mullins said. “I got very close to all three of these guys.”

The core team of volunteers included about 10 crew leaders in a role similar to Mullins’ role.

“I already knew some of these people, but have made permanent bonds with all of them through the community build,” Mullins said. “Three shifts of 50-90 volunteers each came to help every day. It was amazing to see so many people from the ASC, Eastman, and other area businesses coming to pitch in. I was generally supervising anywhere from 3 to 15 people at a given time.”

Although doing all of this work may not seem like fun, Mullins and his team made the best of this situation.

“The core team was quite a fun bunch to be around,” Mullins said. “There was a great deal of camaraderie and sense of purpose throughout, but also plenty of comic relief. This was especially true at mealtime.”

Mullins especially enjoyed locating and conserving the original time capsule that was buried at Johnson Elementary in 1990.

“It was interesting to see what was still familiar today and what has become antiquated since 1990,” Mullins said. “Unfortunately, the old time capsule had some water damage. Eastman was able to use some of their sophisticated lab equipment to safely dry and preserve nearly all of the items.”

There were a few events during the build that really stuck with Mullins.

“Dr. Edwards and I walked the site each night before leaving to pick up trash and make ready for the next day,” Mullins said. “One of my crews was mostly young auditors from Eastman. They did not know much about digging in the dirt, but they were incredibly detail oriented and worked more efficiently than any other group I had. I think a moment that will stick with everyone was seeing the crane arrive to lift the castle rooftops. The closing ceremony was a very emotional event for all of us.”

After doing a lot of hard work to help build the new playground, Mullins is proud of the accomplishment.

“The new playground is a beautiful structure,” he said. “Nearly all features include accessibility for students with physical limitations. This playground cannot be purchased from a catalog and there is no identical structure anywhere on planet Earth.”

While most people look at volunteer work as hard or boring, Mullins believes it is actually really fun. Mullins would definitely recommend volunteering to others.

“This was a life changing experience that cannot be put into words,” he said. “You could not have paid professional contractors to complete this project in the amount of time and through the weather that we did. It was a labor of love and personal sacrifice. Giving your time and talents to people in need is fulfilling on a level that money cannot buy.”

Even now, Mullins looks toward the future of the Johnson playground.

“Our oldest volunteer was around 85 years old,” he said. “The new playground is intended to last about 40 years. I will be approaching 80 if I live that long. The school building itself will be well over 100 years old by then. I will be back out there helping the next time if I am still around.”

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