NASHVILLE - Faced with a looming deadline, State Building Commission members on Monday gave the OK for Chattanooga State Community College to begin work on a training center for employees of the new Wacker Chemical plant in Bradley County.
Chattanooga State is buying the 15-acre Olan Mills property next to the college on Amnicola Highway and, along with the training center, plans to use it for classrooms and other facilities for its engineering and visual arts programs.
The specially called meeting of the commission, believed to be the first in at least a decade, came about as Chattanooga State works to complete the Wacker portion of the $5 million project by Aug. 1.
Following the panel's action, Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro said the college is under a tight timeline for Wacker.
The two-year college has "been racing since we came to agreement with Wacker that we were going to do their training and that this chemical training plant is a must," Catanzaro said. "We've been moving as fast as we can, as fast as the state can."
The project includes what Catanzaro described as a state-of-the-art, multistory glass mockup of the $1.45 billion plant Wacker is building near Charleston, Tenn.
Chattanooga State is training the estimated 650 workers who will produce polysilicon used in manufacturing solar power panels at the plant.
After the training is complete, the Chattanooga State facility can be used by future students in the chemical engineering program, education officials say.
The Wacker Institute, as it has been named, will be part of the college's engineering technology division and will offer fast-track degrees in areas including chemical and mechanical technology, according to school officials.
The state, meanwhile, still is completing its $6.85 million purchase of Olan Mills' property.
Earlier this spring, Olan Mills' Chief Financial Officer Laura Carden said selling the property to Chattanooga State was good for both the growing college and the photography company. Olan Mills is not downsizing, but is consolidating its operations into its Shallowford Road location, she said.
"We are excited to move into one building," Carden said. "Chattanooga State is growing, and this will be a good fit for them, and it will make sense for us."
Total cost of the Chattanooga State project, including the purchase of the property, construction of the mockup plant, equipment and creation of classroom and other facilities for the engineering and visual arts departments, is estimated at $13.2 million.
Of that amount, Wacker is contributing $3 million. Other funding is coming from a combination of public sources, including state funds freed up last year by federal stimulus funds.
The five-member State Building Commission has oversight of all building construction and renovation, demolition and land and lease transactions for state government.
Comptroller Justin Wilson, a commission member, said Monday's meeting was the first specially called meeting of the panel since he became a member three years ago.
Dick J. Tracy, executive director of the Tennessee Board of Regents' Office of Facilities Development, said the called meeting is the first he can remember in his 10 years of dealing with the panel.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.