NASHVILLE — A proposed $25 million revitalization of Cleveland State Community College has shot up to the No. 3 spot on a preliminary list of the the state's top higher education funding projects and could become a candidate for funding in Gov. Bill Haslam's 2018-2019 budget.
During budget hearings Tuesday, Mike Krause, Tennessee Higher Education Committee executive director, said the community college's abrupt status change came about as a result of revised criteria governing recommended projects.
"It's an additional square footage and a revitalization of the existing square footage that they desperately need," Krause said. "It'll represent the first capital investment for the state in Cleveland State in about 20 years."
Krause told Haslam the revised calculations on what projects need to come to the funding forefront are based in large part on what best serves the governor's Drive to 55 program.
The program seeks to boost the number of Tennesseans with four-year degrees or one- to two-year associate degrees or certificates to 55 percent of the adult population.
With its 1960s and early 1970s-era buildings, many of which are described in a "master plan" revamp of the campus as "dilapidated" and some candidates for demolition, Cleveland State serves a fast- growing area with Cleveland and Bradley County as its hub, Krause said.
Krause said THEC's task used to be to "meld" a capital project funding list from the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board of Regents systems.
The Tennessee Board of Regents system includes community colleges and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. Until this year, it also included six non-UT universities, including Tennessee Tech in Cooke-ville and the University of Memphis. But Haslam successfully pushed to make the six universities self governing with their own local boards.
And that necessitated changes in THEC's calculations on how to prioritize major higher education projects, Krause said.
"Obviously, we couldn't do that this year with the addition of our [locally governed institutions]," Krause said. But I think we took that as an opportunity to revise the capital process that used to be about surviving on a list for a decade or more and eventually you come to the top."
Now, it's "primarily based on how it helps us with the Drive to 55," Krause said.
Krause worked with several experts and representatives of the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Board of Regents systems, and the six self-governing public universities on the changes.
"Last year, you would have seen [Cleveland State revamp] lurking I think at about 13 on the list," Krause said. He said one of the new criteria involves providing access to education to underserved areas and it was a "very high-scored area" for Cleveland State.
Moreover, a trip to Cleveland State to see the campus' condition helped.
"We had a chance to go out to the campus and see it first hand," Krause said. "They need revitalization. We're excited about it being on the list."
The college had some 3,300 students last fall. The 105-acre campus has 10 major buildings including classrooms, laboratories and student activity centers as well as a library, computer labs, a 400-seat theater and a 3,000-seat gymnasium.
Beyond its main campus, Cleveland State has offices and classrooms in Athens and Monroe County and offers classes throughout its service area of Bradley, Meigs, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.
According to THEC documents, the state would provide $22.5 million for the Cleveland State project while $2.5 million would come from other sources.
Meanwhile, making the No. 1 slot on the project list is a $39.6 million new academic classroom building for Middle Tennessee State University. Krause said MTSU has done an outstanding job of providing a "pipeline" from community colleges to four-year institutions, which is a major focus of Drive to 55.
Coming in at No. 2 is a new energy and environmental research building for the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Krause said the institute's agricultural work is not only important to Tennessee but also the nation.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.