published Monday, April 13th, 2009

Officials optimistic about funds for satellite campus

by Beverly Carroll
Audio clip

Bert Brantley

The third time could be the charm for a proposal to build a satellite campus in Catoosa County for Northwestern Technical College.

Local and state officials are optimistic that funding for the twice-vetoed project will be included in the state’s 2010 budget.

“We had to strike when the iron was hot, and the iron is hot right now,” said Rep. Jay Neal, R-Chickamauga. “There is about $3 million included in the state’s technical colleges system for the first year.”

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said in a news release he got $3.6 million included in the state 2010 budget. The funding is listed in the technical college system’s bond requests. The budget will be formally adopted once Gov. Sonny Perdue signs it.

Bert Brantley, Gov. Perdue’s spokesman, said the governor will not review the bond portion of the budget before mid-May. He vetoed the Catoosa campus last year because it was not a priority for the technical school system, Mr. Brantley said. In 2007, Gov. Perdue vetoed $100,000 for a study, records show.

By including the request among the bond projects, North Georgia legislators improved its chances, Mr. Brantley said. The down economy means the state can borrow money through bonds at lower rates and get more building for its buck because of reduced construction costs, he said.

“The rates we got were some of the lowest we have gotten in the last 20 years,” Mr. Brantley said. “The governor proposed an aggressive bond program with the thought of putting some people to work, getting a great deal and building projects people need.”

Catoosa County residents have needed a satellite campus for years, local officials said.

“I’ve been waiting for that money and I got disappointed each July when the governor vetoed it,” Catoosa Commission Ken Marks said.

Commissioners recently voted to donate 37.4 acres at the intersection of Dietz and Cloud Springs roads for a 65,000-square foot, $20 million campus.

The decision is “supporting education and faculty for economic development,” Commissioner Jim Cutler said.

More than 40 percent of the work force in Catoosa, Dade, Walker and Whitfield counties works in Chattanooga, according to Catoosa Commission Chairman Keith Greene. The remaining workers need training to meet the demands of a highly automated manufacturer, he said. The college will offer targeted programs and collaborate with other colleges and area high schools to prepare workers.

A $1 billion VW assembly plant will come on line in Chattanooga by 2011. Around the Chattanooga area, officials are hoping to cash in on spinoff jobs created by the German car manufacturer.

Jeff King, president of Northwestern, said work is under way on the curriculum. Administrators are reviewing a dozen career-education programs, and the campus would have a bookstore, library and student center.

Sen. Mullis said that whether or not the school helps bring VW work, it still is an asset for the county.

“A Catoosa campus will make our local economy that much more appealing to potential outside investment in the future,” he state.

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