Marion training center future in doubt

Marion training center future in doubt

February 6th, 2011 in News

By Ryan Lewis

Correspondent

KIMBALL, Tenn. -- The plan to build a technical skills training center on the old Holland farm along U.S. Highway 41 has endured severe highs and lows over the past year.

According to the plan, Chattanooga State Community College would buy 40 of the nearly 150 acres that Marion County has set aside for the project. Two buildings would be built to accommodate a transfer program and a building trades program for the school, while the county still would own about 100 acres of the surrounding property for expansion.

But that plan died in November.

The Tennessee Board of Regents awarded $87.2 million to 11 community college projects across the state, including $9 million for Chattanooga State to acquire the Olan Mills property next to its Chattanooga campus. The school plans to expand its campus onto the new land.

But the board rejected Chattanooga State's proposal to build the training center on U.S. Highway 41 in Kimball, leaving the project in limbo once again.

"Chattanooga State made it pretty easy for the Board of Regents to make their decision," Kimball Mayor David Jackson said. "They filed two applications. [The Olan Mills property] was their first priority. They had our project marked as their second priority. Chattanooga State pretty much made the decision for those folks."

Last week, officials representing Marion County, including Jackson; County Mayor John Graham; School Superintendent Mark Griffith; state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga; state Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, and all of the education committee members of the county commission met with Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan.

"It was a fact-finding mission," Graham said. "We just went in to have some of our questions about the situation answered."

One of the questions, Graham said, was the possibility that some of the money distributed by the Board of Regents for other projects might be returned.

"I think it's safe to say they don't anticipate any of it coming back," he said.

Jackson said the Marion County group "expressed our concerns about how the money was dispersed."

"We explained to them the support our community and the county has for this project, but we're beginning to lose some of that support," he said. "They were honest with us, and we were honest with them."

Officials said the most productive item that came out of the gathering was a future meeting that will include Morgan, officials from Chattanooga State and representatives from Marion County.

Graham said the meeting has not yet been scheduled.

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