Catoosa commissioners donate land for career academy

Catoosa commissioners donate land for career academy

August 21st, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese talks following a Catoosa County Commission meeting at the Catoosa County administrative building on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in Ringgold, Ga. Commissioners voted unanimously to donate about 5 acres of land to the Catoosa County Board of Education.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Catoosa commissioners donate land for career academy

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RINGGOLD, Ga. — In exchange for about 6 1/2 acres, Catoosa County's board of education will provide space for a new 911 center and an economic development office.

After hearing a request from Superintendent Denia Reese two weeks ago, county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to donate land on Catoosa Circle. The board of education hopes to build a college and career academy there. As part of the deal, the school will set aside about 2,500 square feet for the county.

Commission Chair Steven Henry said the current 911 center, located on the first floor of the courthouse, is too small.

The new school will house a college and career academy, allowing students to pursue associate's degrees or career certifications in a couple different job fields. School officials plan to teach 911 emergency response courses as part of the academy.

"We need a new 911 center, and we need more employees [coming in from the new school]," Henry said Tuesday night. "It's a great opportunity."

The county will also move the economic development office from the administrative building on LaFayette Road to the new school campus. The property will be located off Battlefield Parkway, next to the county's colonnade, amphitheater and library. As part of the agreement, the board of education will build a parking lot that residents can use when going to the amphitheater on weekends.

Reese and the board of education have worked for about 1 1/2 years to develop the academy, a specialized high school. School officials hope the program will better prepare students for the workforce and fill job openings in the county. In addition to classes, students can intern or apprentice with a local business.

"It is going to change the landscape of education in Catoosa County," Reese told the commissioners Tuesday night. " I believe it is one of the best projects that we have ever worked on together."

Over the next three weeks, they will apply for a $3 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia to help build the academy. As part of the applications, school systems are supposed to show that local businesses and other branches of the government support the program.

Tuesday's vote should bolster the application.

"It shows that you're partnering with your community, your county government," she said. "Particularly, housing the 911 center is a great fit, because you can provide internships right there, inside your building. It's a joint venture. It also says you're moving forward. That's what they like to see: You already have a plan."

The $3 million from the state will not cover all expenses. Reese said school officials have not completed a total budget to build the school yet, though that answer will be part of their application to the state, which is due Sept. 13. Any funding needed on top of the grant will come from sales tax revenue. Voters would decide on that issue on the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum in March 2021.

Spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the state government has backed these academies with grant funding since 2008. In northwest Georgia, they have popped up in the Floyd, Gordon and Whitfield county school systems, as well as the Calhoun City School District.

With Cagle's loss in the Republican primary governor's race, support for the academies is not quite as stable as it would have been with him in office. But Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who defeated Cagle on July 24, said in a statement that he supports college and career academy funding "as long as the return on investment is high."

Kemp's Democratic opponent for governor, Stacey Abrams, said she wants to grow the number of apprenticeship programs for students in the state. That could complement the college and career academies that already exist.

During a presentation to county commissioners two weeks ago, Reese announced the five pathways that students could pursue in the academy: information technology, law and justice, building design and power, medicine and nursing, and early childhood education.

The building design and power pathway would teach plumbing, electrical work, HVAC repair, construction, welding and engineering. The law and justice path would teach law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency response and 911 operations.

As of March, about 10,750 students were enrolled in Catoosa County Schools, including about 3,300 students in the system's three high schools.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.