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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger

The Hamilton County Commission is set to vote next week to consider a land donation for a building trade school to open in 2022.

If the donation is approved, the land at the site of the former Mary Ann Garber School in Chattanooga will be used to establish the Building and Construction Workforce Center.

"This is something that's a public-private partnership where the general contractors have come to us because there's a need for this type of work," County Mayor Jim Coppinger told the commission Wednesday.

"And certainly we got a number of students in our schools that are participating in these types of programs right now, this is just kind of going to be an advancement of that, which is going to be something where people can actually do internships at the same time. And also they can be in dual enrollment with Chattanooga State [Community College]."

The school will be the first such vocational learning center since Kirkman Technical High School closed in 1991 and will provide training to high school students involved in dual enrollment, as well as adults seeking vocational training.

The facility will offer training in a slew of building trade skills, according to development coordinator Ken Hays.

"It's all the divisions. You've got masonry, carpentry, welding, HVAC. You have four labs and four classrooms, and you'll have a big outdoor section with construction. It's to give a sampling for everything," Hays said.

"Because of the dual enrollment, it is for 11th and 12th graders. The two feeder schools are Howard [High School] and East Ridge [High School] because they have already got activities like this," Hays said. "A lot of the planning is that it is attractive for kids to want to do it. AGC [The Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee] is working to start summer camps, so kids can learn how things work and can get excited."

The project is a culmination of more than two years of discussions between the county, the Hamilton County Board of Education, Chattanooga State Community College, the city of Chattanooga, the AGC and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

"This is part of the project that we started a couple of years ago, but we put it on pause as a result of the COVID pandemic and now we're back in business, so to speak," Coppinger said.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga and Hamilton County working with private partners to plan vocational school near Tubman site)

While the Commission is not yet voting on any money, Coppinger said the county, state, city, AGC and private sector will be splitting the cost of building the school.

"The state's put in $2 million, the city's going to put in $2 million, the county would be putting in $2 million, and the AGC is putting in half a million," Coppinger said Wednesday. "And then we've raised over a million already from the private sector.

"We're in pretty good shape with that right now. And that will, you know, continue to move forward with it."

Coppinger, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson and the president of the AGC will serve as board members over the project.

Commissioners celebrated the project, noting the need for such laborers as the county continues to grow.

"There is such an age gap — 25 to 55. We have no people in the trades," said Commissioner Tim Boyd, R-Chattanooga, who works in development. He said he's "100% behind" the project.

"When you go to a job site, generally, your foremen are 65 or older. Your skilled trades are 55 and older. You've got a few, very few, young people in the trades.

"Without a doubt, it's an exciting time to be serving on this commission. We've had a long-time conversation about the need for a learning facility like this. And I too want to say thank you, Mr. Mayor, and to our superintendent, the AGC, Mr. Hayes, and everyone that's been involved in making this come into fruition," said Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, R-Ooltewah. "No doubt there's a big need for this."

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or at staylor@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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