Tennessee College of Applied Technology to add $17 million building to meet workforce demand

Wayne Denny, U.S. Army Retired, works at one of the lathe machines Monday afternoon in the Tennessee College of Applied Technology division at Chattanooga State.

The Tennessee College of Applied Technology is anticipating the addition of a $17 million technical building within the next few years - a project school officials say is needed to meet the demand for skilled industrial and building trade workers in the area.

TCAT, which is located on Chattanooga State Community College's campus off Amnicola Highway, is on a list with five other projects for technical colleges across the state and will hopefully receive the funding needed for the new building in the next legislative session, TCAT executive vice president Jim Barrott said.

"We are full, maxed out on our space," Barrott said. "We have demand for other programs to begin and demand for the expansion of existing programs."

Approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents and a part of phase 3 for the statewide "master plan" for technical colleges, the new building would receive 95 percent of its funding from the state. The college will have to come up with the rest - $850,000 - from local sources, and the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County have both already committed $100,000 each to the new building for a combined $200,000.

There are 27 technical colleges in the state, all of them often referred to as a "TCAT," but the TCAT in Chattanooga is the only one associated with a community college. The school offers 20, one-year diploma programs and six certificate programs, ranging from welding technology and automotive repairs to cosmetology and massage therapy.

Richel Albright, communications director for the city of Chattanooga, said many residents don't realize the need for vocational workers in the metro area and that TCAT is located "right in their own backyard."

"The city sees this as a way to deepen the relationship with TCAT to raise a stronger workforce," she said.

Barrott said the proposed 42,000-square-foot building would help expand the college's mechatronics program - a blend between mechanical and electrical and industrial maintenance - as well as the college's welding technology, information technology and medical assisting programs. The new building would also house a new program centered on construction and building trades, he said.

Typical industrial-based jobs offer anywhere from $18-$22 an hour after just one year of school, and TCAT boasts a 96 percent placement rate after graduation, Barrott said.

The $17 million would also fund renovations to some of the other existing buildings that house TCAT programs at the community college. Barrott said the new building wouldn't be completed and ready for students for probably another three to five years.

"The jobs are there and the demands are there," Barrott said. "We just need more space to put out more people."

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.