Catoosa County residents gather at Ringgold United Methodist Church at the first of three town hall meetings hosted by Healthy Foundations about a proposed mental health facility in Tunnel Hill, Georgia. / Staff photo by Patrick Filbin

A proposed mental health facility is drawing criticism from Catoosa County residents, but the proposal itself isn't the issue, the location is.

The proposed location is less than 2 miles from Tiger Creek Elementary School.

Bobby Whittemore, a lifelong Catoosa County resident, lives on Lake Road in Tunnel Hill near where the facility would be built.

"I'm not saying this is not a good thing. Put it anywhere else," he said during the first of three public meetings on the issue.

More than 50 people attended the Ringgold town hall meeting hosted by Healthy Foundations, the nonprofit that is seeking to buy 200 acres to build a campus that will include counseling rooms, medical and dental care offices, housing, classrooms, a chapel, a day care center, a clothing boutique, an industrial kitchen and other amenities.

Many in attendance were against having the facility in a residential area. Those who spoke worried about their property values decreasing and the safety of children and families in the area. They also wondered why the facility couldn't be built in a more industrial area.

Several times during the meeting, representatives of Healthy Foundations and supporting entities were yelled at by members of the rowdy and restless crowd.

"I live and work here. I've been here for 20 years," said Healthy Foundations CEO and President DeLaine Hunter. "I'm in my community myself, and I'm not lying when I say if I could put this in my backyard. I would."

Hunter is also CEO and president of North Georgia Healthcare Center in Ringgold.

Some residents, including the executive director of Communities in Schools, Suzanne Chovanec, thought the facility was a great idea. Local officials including Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk, county school Superintendent Denia Reese and Catoosa County Commission Chairman Steven Henry have also been largely supportive of the plan.

"The only way we're going to fix this problem is to own it," Chovanec said. "The only way we're going to own it is we're going to step up as a community. No matter where we put it, there's going to be opposition. What I'm asking you as a community where I live and I work is that you step up and own the problem that is in your backyard."

Sisk has said such a facility is desperately needed in the area, and Reese said she would work closely with him to ensure the safety of the community and children as the plan moves forward.

The Catoosa County Planning Commission is set to vote on whether to recommend the project on Sept. 24, with the county commission making the ultimate decision on Oct. 15.

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