First Marion institute building opens Monday

First Marion institute building opens Monday

August 23rd, 2014 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News

Moss Hall is the first classroom on the Marion County Institute of Higher Learning campus.

Photo by Photo: Ryan Lewis

KIMBALL, Tenn. - The long road county leaders took to get to the first building on the Marion County Institute of Higher Learning campus along U.S. Highway 41 is about to come to an end after five years.

Moss Hall opens Monday for classes as a Chattanooga State satellite site. An open house is being held there today from 2-3:30 p.m. CDT.

In 2010, the Marion County Commission designated the school a top priority as part of its Three-Star Program, which targets key issues facing the county.

Program coordinator Howard Cotter said at the time that the proposed campus on the 150-acre Holland Farm property was "the key to all opportunity in Marion County."

"The future of the county lies in the education of its workforce," he said. "It will provide a future for our children and is a key to recruiting jobs and industry to the county."

The County Commission hired Whitwell, Tenn., native Steve Hudson of SKH Construction Enterprises in June 2010 as the project's construction manager so they would have a direct representative to oversee day-to-day construction.

Former County Mayor Howell Moss, for whom the first building is named, said then that the county had "gotten some gray hairs" by not hiring a construction manager for other structures the county had built in the past.

However, the gray hairs on this project were just getting started.

The plan hit its first major hurdle in August 2010 when Kimball Mayor David Jackson announced that the initial 30,000-square-foot building came in well over the $2.1 million budget.

Ideas for downsizing the first building were rejected across the board, and the project seemed doomed from its inception.

In October 2010, a pitch from Chattanooga State Community College President James Catanzaro breathed new life into the proposed school.

Catanzaro told Marion commissioners that Chattanooga State would apply for $10 million of $120 million in stimulus money to buy part of the land from the county and build two buildings on the site to accommodate a transfer program and building trades program. There would be plenty of room left over for future growth, he said.

What Catanzaro didn't tell the board was that Chattanooga State also was applying for $9 million through the same program to purchase the old Olan Mills property next to its campus.

That was marked as a top priority on its application for the money, so the Tennessee Board of Regents awarded the $9 million and rejected Chattanooga State's "second priority" application for the training center in Kimball, leaving the project in limbo once again.

By December 2011, the school site seemed to be moving forward when the county applied for $500,000 in Economic Development Administration matching-fund grant money.

That bid failed, too, but County Mayor John Graham vowed the project would move forward despite the setback.

County administrators applied for the grant money again in the spring of 2012, but delays in getting the money and Hudson's sudden death in December 2012 pushed the project into 2013.

With the money to construct the first building on the campus finally in hand and a new construction manager in place, the county bid out the project last summer, and construction began earlier this year.

The board voted unanimously in June to name the entrance road to the campus in honor of Hudson, who said many times that his "heart was in that school."

Plans are already under way to build a second building on the campus to house industrial trades classes such as welding.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.