Extreme Volunteers

Banner showing progression of building project

Last month, viewers across the country watched former Vols Nick Dryden (’95) and John Abernathy (’92) help give back to their Nashville community when they rebuilt a flood-wracked school on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

In May 2010, Lighthouse Christian School’s campus was devastated by the flooding that severely affected Nashville and caused approximately $2 billion in damage in Middle Tennessee. LCS’s preschool was literally washed away in the flood, and a number of other buildings on the campus were damaged. In addition to a preschool, LCS has an elementary, a middle, and a high school.

Despite the personal ordeal caused by the flood, the Sweatt family—which has been running the school since 2003—selflessly organized flood recovery efforts in the wake of the disaster, providing food, water, clothing, and other services for more than 200 families. Unfortunately, after the flood, the family found it did not have the resources to rebuild LCS, and it faced the prospect of shuttering the facility.

Happily, the producers of Extreme Makeover took notice and decided to help LCS build a new preschool facility, with LP Building Materials and Hardaway Construction also signing on to the endeavor. Enter Abernathy and Dryden, whose architecture firm, DA|AD, was contacted to help design the building.

“I think for us it was a unique opportunity—it was a national network television show, but, more importantly, I think what was more gratifying was that we were able to give assistance to someone who really suffered from the flooding. For us, that was the best way to give back to the community,” Dryden says.

Founded in 2002 by Dryden and Abernathy, DA|AD currently employs six architects, five of whom graduated from the University of Tennessee School of Architecture. In 2010, Dryden received an Alumni Promise award from the University of Tennessee, a recognition he says comes from his firm’s work with neighborhood revitalization and other projects that help communities.

The firm faced one catch in its assignment: DA|AD had only five weeks to design the building and submit its plans to local and state officials, who had to approve them before construction could start on September 10. Normally, three to four months are needed to complete these tasks.

Despite the challenges, the plans came together, and DA|AD worked with designers from the television show to design the new building. Other companies donated various construction materials and services, such as labor, furniture, siding, and electrical supplies.

“We really worked well with the people from the show, and we had a lot of input into the exterior design and the functional requirements of the classrooms and how they laid out in the building in particular,” Abernathy says. He notes that his firm also helped point out the fire and safety regulations unique to schools.

In the end, the new LCS preschool is a 6,500-square-foot building that houses four classrooms, an indoor play area, a kitchen, and offices. Although enrollment in the preschool is currently at 88 students, there are plans for an addition to the building that would allow it to house a total of 150 children.

“It was an experience for us that showed that when you give of yourself, you get back a hundred-fold. When we drove to the site—and this is before anyone knows Extreme has chosen LCS to get the project—there was a sign stating, ‘Flood recovery—call us, we can help.’ When all that’s left of the buildings are scraps, but there’s a sign that says ‘We’re here to help you’—you know you are working for an organization that is doing good in the community,” Abernathy says.

The Extreme Makeover episode featuring the construction of the LCS preschool aired November 14, but the episode can be viewed online.

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