Initial work at a college campus site in Kimball, Tenn., would be funded by about $3 million in grant and in-kind work
Source: Marion County government, Southeast Tennessee Development District
KIMBALL, Tenn. -- Marion County is reinvigorating plans for a new college campus on 30 acres of farmland in Kimball, an idea proposed in 2009 before the economic downturn spoiled an early launch.
Now, work by county and Chattanooga State Community College officials could end with a groundbreaking as early as spring, officials said.
County Mayor John Graham said recent county commission education committee meetings with Chattanooga State officials have resulted in shifting plans to a new launch point in hopes of driving the project forward as a regional campus.
"I'm convinced that this project, even in its first stage, will be the educational center for the Sequatchie Valley and North Alabama," he said.
Graham said officials believe they have enough money in hand to get the project started with about $3 million in grant funding and utility work by the town of Kimball dedicated to the project. Some money already has been spent on site studies en route to development, he said.
Back in 2009, when the Volkswagen plant was on the way, Alstom was expanding in Chattanooga and Chicago Bridge & Iron was pursuing plans to build a nuclear vessel plant in New Hope, Tenn., Marion County officials embarked on a venture to build a new technical training campus to replace the Regional Skills Center facility on the west side of Kimball.
Then the economy tanked, CB&I planning slowed to a halt and the state started closely watching dollars for community colleges.
The county paid $1.5 million for 140-plus acres on U.S. Highway 41 just inside Kimball, where about 30 acres is tapped for the campus. Marion officials hope the facility will become a four-year educational facility for the tri-state region, Graham said.
The vision for the property hasn't changed much but the approach to it has, he said.
Instead of a vocational building, officials want to begin with a 12,000-square-foot classroom building in the center of the future campus with plans to add either another classroom building or an administrative building next, he said.
The previous plan was to start the project with a trades building for welding classes moved from the Regional Skills Center, he said. For now, officials plan to keep welding classes at the Skills Center until the new campus project is further developed, he said.
Ultimately, Graham said, county land and private property around the campus site could be promoted for commercial use.
Jeff Olingy, Chattanooga State's vice president for economic and community development, said the college's current role in the project is as a tenant, but the college will work closely in planning.
"My understanding is that the folks in Marion County anticipate breaking ground in spring 2012," he said. "We'll be called at the right time to talk to folks in the county government and give our input as far as needs."
Olingy said industrial development in the region has increased student interest in secondary education and training in Marion County, but the current Skills Center facility is just not up to the task anymore. The aging metal building has no room for expansion and was not originally designed for classrooms or lab space, he said.
Despite the future of the new site, Olingy said there are no plans to make changes at Chattanooga State's Bledsoe County site.
Kimball Mayor David Jackson believes the campus will be a good regional location for rural students in Marion and the surrounding area.
"Students won't have to drive back and forth to Chattanooga," he said. "We'll be thrilled to death when this thing gets off the ground."
Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, says the campus could become a center of education for not only Chattanooga State, but a future satellite site for other schools such as Bryan College, Lee University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the University of the South.
The demand for training will increase as existing local industries become more technologically oriented and new high-tech industries move in, Jones said. The site would improve the talent pool for local industries, she said.
For Chattanooga State students, the new campus would provide ample classroom space for all the courses required for an associate degree, she said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.