Sound the trumpets! Hamilton County at long last may be nearing the opening — perhaps by August 2022 — of a vocational and technical trade school in the heart of Chattanooga on a regular public bus line.
It's a welcomed, albeit glacially enacted, plan, since we've needed this kind of education in the city since the 1991 closure of Kirkman Technical High School. This editorial page — along with the Free Press Editorial Page to our right — has been calling for just this kind of action since at least 2014.
This breakthrough school, for now dubbed the Building and Construction Workforce Center, will train 11th and 12th graders who are not headed to college in all divisions of the building trade — masonry, carpentry, welding and HVAC — complete with a big outdoor area for hands-on construction learning.
It is sorely needed, not just for contractors looking for local workers, but also for our children who need skills to earn a livable wage whether they eventually attend college or not. The median pay for construction workers is nearly $18 an hour, and with specializations like masonry, carpentry, HVAC or welding, the rate rises upward of $25.50 an hour. The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and Tennessee has no minimum wage.
The Hamilton County Commission is scheduled to vote next week to consider a land donation for the school — the site of the former Mary Ann Garber Elementary School in East Chattanooga near the former Harriett Tubman Homes housing site.
Better still, the funding for the new trade school seems to be nearly in hand, awaiting only the formal votes of local officials.
"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 [Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee] is putting in half a million," said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger on Wednesday. "And then we've raised over a million already from the private sector [local foundations and donors]."
The new school will make a natural extension of the vocational training at Sequoyah High School in Soddy-Daisy (which includes cosmetology, digital arts, machining and automotive skills) and of the Future Ready Institutes at various county schools that already teach robotics and medical/insurance skills among other disciplines.
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.
Here's hoping the Building and Construction Workforce Center will live up to its name.