Tennessee Temple waits for decision, planning commission to take up Tyner site plan

photo Property owned by Woodland Park Baptist Church in Tyner could be a possible future home of Tennessee Temple University.

IF YOU GOWhat: Planning commission meetingWhen: 1 p.m. todayWhere: Fourth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse

There was talk last year about Tennessee Temple University moving to Tyner's Woodland Park Baptist Church as early as this fall.

Now, for the first time, comes a glimpse of what that move could look like through a preliminary site plan that will go before planning commissioners today.

This isn't the first time Temple has made public its intention to get out of its 21-acre Highland Park campus. In February, school leaders disclosed their intentions to move the Chattanooga school from the urban site where it has been located since its 1946 inception.

Also in that release, leaders stated that Redemption to the Nations, a church with sites in Ooltewah and in Highland Park, will purchase several of Temple's buildings and properties.

The timeline for those purchases was said to give Temple until 2015 to move out.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency's April meeting agenda includes an application from Woodland Park Baptist Church to have its 163-acre plat of land in Tyner issued a special-exemptions permit that would allow for the construction of buildings and infrastructure for Tennessee Temple's new campus.

The plan includes 16 parking areas, nine student housing facilities, five new academic buildings and a handful of designated green spaces, walking trails and bike paths. There are also a dozen athletic facilities and 11 senior housing units for church use.

But Temple and Woodland Park leaders said Wednesday this doesn't mean the partnership is a done deal.

"This is very preliminary," said Temple President Steve Echols.

Like Echols, Woodland Park leaders declined to say much last week about what the application means and how far along the deal is -- or even if there's going to be one.

"I'm very mindful of the fact that we don't want to do anything to jump them," said Echols. "It's just politeness to a potential partner."

The partnership could be a shot in the arm for both institutions. Temple is clawing its way back from a steady enrollment decline that leaves it with 344 on-campus students, 468 total university students and 88 seminary students. That's just a fraction of the 5,000-plus students on campus during Temple's peak in the 1970s.

Woodland Park is dealing with a mammoth unfinished building and debt that at one time neared $6 million, according to the church's website. Right now, it's all eyes on them as members are in the midst of an affirmation period, which started on March 30.

On April 27, church members are expected to have decided whether the church should go ahead with the Tennessee Temple partnership.

"It's their petition," said Echols, adding "absolutely, we're all excited" about the potential outcome.

Steve McCary, head of Woodland Park's Tennessee Temple partnership task force, said last week that the church does not want to make a statement right now.

Due at least in part to its potential partnership with Woodland Park Baptist Church -- a Tennessee Baptist Convention member -- Temple received its first-ever affirmation from the Tennessee Baptist Convention in November. Temple is not a member of the convention.

Chris Turner, director of communications at the Tennessee Baptist Convention, said affirmations are given to different groups, organizations and individuals regularly as a way to say "Blessings on you" for good work.

"It's really an official way to positively address what people are doing," he said.

Yet the planning agency's staff, in its review of Woodland Park's request for a special exemption, made some notes that could delay a Temple move.

In its summary, the staff notes that Tennessee Temple is moving 344 full-time resident students from a downtown environment with transportation infrastructure to a suburban one off Standifer Gap Road, which they say "was not designed to absorb the increased density of a now auto-dependent student population."

A transportation study has been ordered.

Also, staff reported that Woodland Park leaders indicated Temple's plan would be completed in phases, but the phases are not indicated in the current application. They have requested the application be revised to reflect the phases and timing should the partnership happen.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at [email protected] or 423-757-6480.