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NASHVILLE — Chattanooga State has been given the green light to move forward with a proposed $21.9 million advanced manufacturing building for its Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

State Building Commission members last week unanimously approved allowing the project to proceed following a presentation in which members saw early design phase architectural renderings of the proposed 49,127-square-foot, two-story structure.

Funding for the project was included in the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget put forward by Gov. Bill Lee.

After being provided an introduction by Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings, a former Chattanooga State president, Chuck Griffin, president and CEO of Knoxville-based Barber McMurray Architects, walked Building Commission members, who oversee state capital projects, through the plans.

With the state pushing to increase its number of residents with postsecondary degree or certificates, Griffin said, "Chattanooga State needs to increase its enrollment capacity."

"Current enrollment at Chattanooga State's TCAT — especially for programs with high demand fields — is at near-maximum capacity, and some students were placed in a wait list or denied admission early in the admission process," he said.

The new advanced manufacturing building will "meet critical campus needs," Griffin noted. "TCAT Chattanooga has more full-time equivalent students per square foot than any other TCAT facility in the state."

But, Griffin added, "it cannot currently expand programs that the community desperately needs. Once this building and subsequent related renovations are completed, it will expand capacity in student enrollment by 84%, resulting in more highly trained graduates in fields including manufacturing, IT and health care."

In addition to helping meet workforce needs, Griffin said, the new building will also serve as the "front door presence" for college of applied technology operations on Chattanooga State's campus.

"The design will enhance the visual and physical connections between TCAT Chattanooga and Chattanooga State while simultaneously enhancing the student experience," he said.

The campus is north of downtown Chattanooga, adjacent to the Tennessee River near the Chickamauga Dam.

The new building will be between the pond at the center of campus and two existing college of applied technology buildings. Parking will be reconfigured, and a "green" pedestrian area between the new building and one of the applied technology buildings along with new pathways will better connect the area to other portions of Chattanooga State's campus.

The new building has two floor levels, with a two-story lobby area allowing natural light into the building's center. The student lounge has space for vending, microwaves and seating for dining and study.

The first floor will accommodate student services and industrial shop areas. It also has an industrial lab space designed for flexibility with overhead power and compressed air to service training equipment.

The second level consists of administration, computer support technicians and other services.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, welcomed the progress being made on the project, telling the Times Free Press in a Monday phone interview that Chattanooga State's college of applied technology "has really been important to everyone here."

Regarding the college of applied technology, the senator said, "A lot of us more are looking at community colleges and TCATs ... instead of pouring more money into four-year institutions that don't seem to be attracting students and turning out the correct results," Gardenhire said.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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