Officials with the Tullahoma Art Center are no stranger to wear and tear, but recent inspections of the center have determined a number of issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later for the building’s integrity.

According to President Beth Thames, the center is in need of some significant corrections in order to keep the building in good standing and providing the community with an artistic resource.

While the age of the building necessitates more upkeep, Thames said the increased rains during February and early March have made needed fixes even more urgent.

“What sparked all of this was I was here working and moved a piece of furniture,” Thames said. When she shifted a large mirror away from an outside wall, huge chunks of the plaster came with it.

There are now two large spots of exposed brick in the room, Thames said, all due to compromised plaster coming off the walls. One of the spots was concealed by a curio shelf, but the other, which lies just behind a grand piano, is visible to anyone visiting the center.

One of the problems, Thames said, is how the brick was formed two centuries ago. The two-story brick building that now houses the Tullahoma Art Center dates back to the mid-1800s and, according to the center’s website, is one of the oldest structures in the city.

“The building is built from locally-sourced brick from the 1800s, so it’s very porous,” she said. Brick made two centuries ago isn’t as dense as modern brick, meaning the old brick is “acting like a sponge” and absorbing the water, which in turn is damaging the building from inside the walls.

This is not a new problem, however, as Thames said there were founding members of the art center who told her they’d had issues with the brick and water in the past.

“We have some original members that were some of the founders of this organization that have filled me in on how this has given them trouble in the past,” she said.

Given the building’s history of water issues, Thames said she and board member Scott Van Velsor, who is also a contractor, did some more investigating.


More water, more problems

The brick’s porosity is also causing problems in different rooms on the first floor, Thames added.

In the room that houses the cash register, two shelves have been strategically placed to conceal damaged and repaired trim that had rotted from within.

“Over here,” Thames said, moving a shelf, “we discovered that there was some softness in the trim.”

She added that there had been some minor repairs to the trim in question, but before it was repaired, it was so soft she could press her finger against the wood and push straight through to the brick behind it.

“So what’s happening is the water is soaking in and doing damage to the wood inside,” she said.

Another room, Thames added, had some mold growth due to the amount of water soaking into the wood underneath the walls. It has been tested by center officials, Thames said, and it was determined that the mold was not black mold, meaning there was not currently any safety concerns for center officials, volunteers or guests.

“It’s just unsightly,” Thames said.

However, she cautioned, should the water issues not be corrected and the mold not removed, there was a possibility it could transform into something dangerous.

Another consistently problem for the center is one portion of the roof, Thames said.

“This has been problematic for a long time,” she said.

While most of the roof is pitched and steep, Thames said there is one portion that is flat and covered with tar. Whenever it rains, water tends to collect and drop down onto the ceiling of the second floor, Thames said.

She pointed to a portion of the second floor ceiling that has a visible water stain on it, as well as indications of previous patches, saying that portion of the roof always concerns her.

“I would say the thing that scares me the most is the roof and then the water coming in,” she said. “There was some roof repair that was done at some point, but it never completely got finished, so we’re still in leeway with that.”

Many of the water issues seemed to stem from the building’s gutter system, Thames said.

“A lot of it has to do with the gutters,” she said. “Apparently the gutters were dumping water directly on the building rather than doing their job and putting water outside.”

Thames said the center had recently paid to have the gutters completely cleaned in the hopes that would help keep things from getting any worse.


Proposed repairs

According to a budget memo sent to the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen last month, the art center board has proposed several changes to the building that should help correct the current issues and prevent sustained damage to the facility.

For instance, the document says, center officials would like to add trenching around the building and add a curtain drain around the entire perimeter of the facility, as water currently pools beneath all the bottom-level floors and “is starting to pucker the hardwood and leech through [the] brick.”

Another recommendation is a “roof and flashing check-up and seal;” “baluster and gable roof repairs” for “rotting wood, structural support [and] paint;” repainting and resealing the exterior walls with water-resistant paint; gutter redirects; and interior repairs for damaged walls and ceilings, as well as damaged “wood structural forms.”

Thames added that the shutters on the outside of the building will also have to be re-affixed, as the way they are bolted to the building now is allowing water to leak in.

“One of the things that we’re going to be addressing is taking those shutters down and filling those holes and making sure that water can’t make it in that way as well,” she said.


City funding request

One of the ways Thames said she and the board could work on some of the needed repairs was from city funds.

Each year the city apportions some of its tax revenues to different nongovernmental agencies – agencies like TAC. As part of the annual city budget process, those nongovernmental agencies fill out funding request forms, seeking part of the city’s tax revenues to extra funds for their groups.

TAC has received more than $15,000 from the city for the last couple of years, with its 2019 budget set at $15,604.

The needed repairs have since caused the center to ask for an additional $9,000 for the coming fiscal year, bringing the requested budget of TAC to $24,604 for FY20.

Whether or not the center will receive the full $24,604 from the city is currently unknown, but should the city refuse the full amount, Thames said she is looking for alternative funding methods.

“I’m always looking for more grants and more sources of funding,” she said.

Should the city approve the amount, Thames said it would be slated for the center’s maintenance fund, which would allow center officials to correct problems as they arise.

Up to now, the general understanding is there isn’t enough money to tackle full-scale repairs, which has led to a series of quick fixes and small patches.

Hopefully the increased funding comes through, Thames said, so that she and others with the center can take more long-term approaches to any future problems for the center.

For more information on the Tullahoma Art Center, visit

Erin McCullough may be reached at