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Berry alumni returns to craft woodwork for new pavilion at Oak Hill

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Al Christopher, Berry College Class of '61, loves to work with wood. He has almost single-handedly, with the support of his wife and fellow Berry alum, Becky Christopher, created the interior and exterior wood treatments for the new pavilion on the grounds of Oak Hill. Berry will formally dedicate the facility during ceremonies Saturday afternoon.

Al Christopher, who lives in the Destin, Fla., area, said he first started discussions with Berry President Stephen Briggs about the pavilion three years ago. It was conceived of as a place for special events, particularly weddings, that would eliminate the need for hauling in a massive tent. Several evolutions later, the project turned into a fully heated and air-conditioned venue for all seasons.

Chris Kozelle, director of public relations for Berry, said the college long ago determined a need for the 5,760-square foot special events facility at Oak Hill on the grounds of the Martha Berry home. The site has become increasingly popular for weddings in recent years but everything on the grounds was subject to the whims of the weather.

Rome architect Mark Cochran's Cevian Design Lab designed the final building but it has Christopher's handprints all over it. All of the woodwork — except for the interior pine framing — was done with juniper wood. One of Christopher's business partners in Florida, John Terry, found a stand of the wood near Blountstown, Florida, and cut it into logs which Christopher has transformed into exterior siding, rustic interior trusses, doors and a special cupola.

“All of the wood that you can see we built in my shop in Florida,” Christopher said. “I shuffled it up here and worked closely with the trim carpenters who I think did a fantastic job.”

Christopher said he started on the cupola and interior trusses even before ground was broken for the building in the spring of 2017. The pavilion has a large catering kitchen and can accommodate up to 152 guests for a seated event and approximately 160 for a buffet reception. The venue can handle 300 in theater style seating for lectures or similar presentations. In addition to the spacious interior during pleasant weather the large doors that Christopher built can be opened up and there is a 12-foot wide brick patio that surrounds the building where additional seating can be placed.

The facility, which is available for public rental, is expected to relieve some of the pressure off the Krannert Center on campus. People interested in the new facility can get additional information at 706-368-67891.