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Company installs gym floors the old-fashioned way
Bobby Tippett refinishes the gym of the Jefferson High gymnasium Wednesday morning. Tippett’s father-in-law installed the floor more than 30 years ago. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

JEFFERSON — Although he never attended Jefferson High School or played on its basketball team, Bobby Tippett has a strong connection to the hardwood floors in the school’s gym.

In the early 1970s, Tippett’s father-in-law’s company, Bennett Flooring, installed the floors, one 19-inch by 19-inch square of Parquet at a time.

More than 30 years later, Tippett is the co-owner of the company and hard at work refinishing the surface.

"I tell people that I’m the only accountant who does floors," Tippett said with a laugh.

Tippett, who studied business and finance in college, left the business world to come aboard Bennett Flooring full-time in the mid-1970s.

"I used to work for (General Motors) and every time that we would go on strike, I would have to find something to do," Tippett said.

"So, whenever we would strike, I started working with my father-in-law. I finally started working with him full-time in 1976."

Tippett said he started out as the cost estimator, and although he shares ownership of the company with his wife, Linda Tippett, he isn’t above pushing up his sleeves and helping his crews finish up projects.

"I never really thought that I would be in the business this long. You get to working and the years just sort of pass on by," said Tippett. "I tell people that I enjoy watching TV and eating, but those things don’t pay anything. (Compared to being in corporate America) this is the lesser of two evils."

In the company’s 65-year history, Bennett Flooring has done work for several universities including Brenau, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, Tippett said.

"We’ve done dance studios in Florida for Fred Astaire and at one point we had installed just about every church gym floor in Chattanooga," said Tippett. "I’d estimate that we’ve done around 3,000 or 4,000 gyms over the years."

Installing floors like the one at Jefferson High has become a dying art, Tippett said.

"This floor was glued down, square by square, people tend to use nails these days," said Tippett. "I’ve even seen some churches that install carpet in their gyms or laminated floors. They think they’re saving money, but then when you have to go in and replace them the costs add up. A good wood floor like this one will last you 80 years if you take care of it."

The variable work conditions are also a deterrent for many newcomers, he said.

"A lot of times, people will find out that their school or church has been picked to host a Christmas tournament and they want things looking nice, so that’s when a lot of places want things done — at Christmas time and New Years. A lot of people don’t like that, but you’ve got to work when people want the work done," said Tippet. "And sometimes, during the summer gyms can get to be 100-plus degrees and you can’t turn on the air conditioner because people don’t want you to get dust (from the sander) stuck in their condenser."

Ever-changing work schedules can also be too much for some to handle.

"You can’t just stop working because it’s 5 (p.m.) and you’re ready to go home, especially not when you’re working out of town. You have to leave things in a way that you can get started working the next day. Like with this project, we stayed until midnight painting the floor so that it could dry overnight and we could come in the next morning to seal it," said Tippett.

"And people don’t like working hard anymore. I once worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day for three months without a day off. You gotta do what you gotta do to get the job done and meet deadlines"