Chattanooga-area counties to receive Tennessee grants for new recreation center, fire and rescue equipment

Staff Photo by Ben Benton / South Pittsburg, Tenn., in Marion County got a $630,000 grant to revamp the old Tennessee National Guard Armory building on Armory Drive in South Pittsburg as the city works to turn the building into a community health and recreation center. The armory was photographed Friday.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- Marion County and South Pittsburg will receive $1 million of $1.7 million being distributed in Southeast Tennessee in state grants, officials announced Thursday.

Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart McWhorter recently approved $27.3 million in grants to recipients across the state to help with infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitation and health and safety initiatives, according to a news release issued Thursday.

(READ MORE: $23.5 million coming to Hamilton County students to expand career training, college credit opportunities)

"Quality infrastructure is essential to ensuring that every Tennessee community can thrive," Lee said in the release. "I congratulate each grant recipient for receiving funds to support local safety, spur economic growth and secure prosperity across our state."

In Southeast Tennessee, block grants went to South Pittsburg, Marion County, Palmer and Hamilton County, according to state officials.


The city of South Pittsburg received a $630,000 grant for work on the old Tennessee National Guard Armory building on Armory Drive to be repurposed as a recreation and health center, South Pittsburg Mayor Samantha Rector said Friday in a phone interview.

"Our whole county does not have a recreation center at all for kids, for anybody actually, and this is something we've been trying to find funds for, for a long time," Rector said.

The armory building, designed by Bianculli and Palm Architects and Engineers in Chattanooga, was completed in 1962 by the Armories Commission in cooperation with Marion County and South Pittsburg, according to a historical plaque.

The grant is not enough to fund a complete refurbishment of the old armory, but Rector said the money will go a long way toward providing the town and county a facility it's never had before.

"We're also hoping to put an air-dome back in the back with turf and a climbing wall and some interactive classrooms," Rector said. "There's also a small dental clinic there that works out of that building, and we're going to keep them there and we're going to build them some new space because we definitely want the dental clinic to stay."

An indoor basketball court will be renovated, and space will be created to rent out for meetings and parties.

"It'll be huge for our community," Rector said.

Janice Bolton, the office manager for Smile dentistry, said Friday between clients that office staff members are happy for the help so they can keep serving low-income families and folks who don't have insurance.

"We're very excited," Bolton said.

South Pittsburg is over-matching on the project with a $1.6 million investment, Department of Economic and Community Development spokeswoman Lindsey Tipton said Friday in an email.


A $420,000 grant to Marion County will fund equipment needs at the county's 14 rural fire departments, County Mayor David Jackson said Friday in a phone interview.

"With our match, about $89,000, we'll have over $500,000 to spend," Jackson said. "We're going to put together a committee of fire chiefs together to come up with what their needs are, and they'll report back to our emergency services committee of the County Commission and go from there."

Gear for a fire department isn't cheap and it takes considerable abuse, he said.

"We're very excited. With inflation, the cost of outfitting a firefighter with turnout gear, buying hoses and all has just gone sky high like everything else has," Jackson said. "It'll be a big help to our 14 rural fire departments."


The town of Palmer in East Grundy County received a $420,000 grant to order a new fire truck, according to David Crabtree, Palmer's outgoing mayor. Crabtree didn't seek re-election to another term in November.

"It's going to be a tanker/pumper," Crabtree said. "It'll be the newest addition to the fire department's fleet. They have two pump trucks and an outdated tanker.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga gets $4.57 million federal grant for EV management system)

"This is really going to update the department to where it's going to be in good condition for years to come," Crabtree said, adding his thanks to grant officials.

The grant has a match amount that has already been accounted for in the city's budget, Crabtree said, but he wasn't certain of the amount. The next step will be coming up with a design to customize the new truck for Palmer and then put it out for bids, he said.

"These tanker trucks are vital for rural communities like this," Crabtree said. That's because water supplies in Grundy County can sometimes be hard to reach, he said.


A $200,000 grant was awarded to Hamilton County for volunteer agency Special Tactics and Rescue Services, according to Hamilton County Emergency Services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell.

Agency Chief Clay Ingle said the grant will fund a custom-built incident command vehicle to replace the current old ambulance filling the role.

The old ambulance had 290,000 miles on it when the agency purchased it used in 2001, he said.

"Instead of a huge vehicle like everybody else buys, we're going to get an extended Transit van," Ingle said.

The grant has a 21% -- or $42,000 -- local match, he said.

The reason for a mid-size vehicle is so the agency can provide help to agencies that have no incident command vehicles of their own, he said.

Ingle said the vehicle will be equipped with large monitors and satellite mapping and tracking technology that can track searchers in the woods, divers underwater and help officials document storm damage sites or dwellings by simply pinning sites on the map.

"We've been working on what we wanted for over a year," Ingle said. "We anticipate it'll be at least three months before we can order the vehicle, then we don't know how long it will take to get the vehicle and get it customized," he said.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.