Young visitors at the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge enjoy splashing and floating boats through the locks and dams in the TVA Waterworks exhibit. When the aging exhibit needed an overhaul to stay afloat, Tennessee Valley Authority employees and retirees joined members of the local carpenters union to plan and make the needed repairs.
“The children love this exhibit even more, now that they have better access to it thanks to the carpenters. And it is safer for them in many ways thanks to the engineers. And they still love to get wet as they learn about locks and dams,” said Suzan Bowman, a Children’s Museum board member, speaking at a recent ribbon cutting for the renovated exhibit.
Bowman knew who to call for help when the Museum’s Facilities Manager Bucky Smith alerted the board that the exhibit needed refurbishing. She had worked for TVA for 30 years before her retirement and was president of the TVA Retirees Association. She realized that she knew many of the TVA employees who had built the model of locks and dams for the TVA barge at the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair, a model later donated to the Children’s Museum.
First, TVA employees from the Norris Engineering Laboratory visited the Museum to assess the model and discovered it was structurally unsound. Bowman then enlisted the aid of area TVA retirees, gathering a team to plan for improving the exhibit. Hal Stephens became the lead engineer on the project, with Bill Haire handling electrical engineering. Retirees R. Michael Parker, John and JoAnne Pantanizoppoulos, Bill and Sharon Pitkin, and David Gengozian also pitched in.
Engineers from the TVA Norris Lab who helped were Matt Williams, David Torrance, David Bush, Mark Goins, Ryan Tinker, and Jeff Northern.
Another retiree, Reny McClain Lee, TVARA Valleywide Volunteer Coordinator, led Bowman to the carpenters union. Four members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Local 50 volunteered to build a sturdy, waterproof deck around the locks and dams model.
Mike Machado, journeyman carpenter and job steward, led the team of Rick Bolinger and Nick Carter, journeyman carpenters, and Ben Mullins, carpenter apprentice who remembered splashing in the Waterworks exhibit as a child.
“They worked eight-to-ten-hour days at Y-12 (National Security Complex) and came to the Children’s Museum after their work day. They stayed until 8:30 or 9:30 or even 10:30 p.m. to get the job done, so they would not slow down others on the project team,” said Mike Boner, executive secretary-treasurer of the Mid-South Carpenters Regional Council, who came from Nashville for the ribbon cutting ceremony. They brought in their own equipment from home when needed to complete the job, contributing more than 180 hours to the project, Boner added.
“They exemplify our values of being professional, productive, and reliable, valuing safety and accuracy, working as a team, and especially Mike Machado, for demonstrating leadership by stepping up to lead the team,” Boner said.
Bowman said the project was funded by a number of donors. Although she originally expected a five-year fix for the exhibit, the retired TVA engineers came up with innovative solutions expected to keep the exhibit open 20 years.
“We were tearing down and building back up, cleaning and blowing the dust, and four weeks later, the outcome is what you see here at the Museum,” Bowman said.
Other contributors included Cuts Inc., Consolidated Pipe and Supply, and Local Motors, which 3-D printed new red and green gates for the locks and dams. TVA Communications Public and Community Relations also supported the project.
Besides offering water play for children, the exhibit highlights the TVA’s role in flood control, navigation, and land management for the Tennessee River system. A corporate agency of the federal government that receives no tax dollars, TVA provides electricity for 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. It also assists local power companies and state and local governments with economic development and job creation.
The Children’s Museum, offering children and families the opportunity for learning through play, is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Museum admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors ages 62 and older, and $6 for children ages 3-18. Admission is free for children under 3 and museum members. For more information, see the Children’s Museum website at http://childrensmuseumofoakridge.org/ or call (865) 482-1074.
This press release and photos were submitted by Kay Brookshire.
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