published Thursday, October 20th, 2011

New campus, new opportunities

The plan to construct a new college campus in Marion County was sound when it was first proposed in 2009. It still makes sense in 2011, when the proposal, temporarily stalled by a struggling economy, has been given new life.

Recent meetings between Marion County and Chattanooga State Community College officials to discuss the campus have proved fruitful. It is possible, those involved indicate, that groundbreaking could occur by next spring for a facility that ultimately would occupy 30 acres of a much larger site on U.S. Highway 41 in Kimball. That's a suitably ambitious, but achievable, timetable.

The schedule is certainly manageable. Initial funding is at hand and updates to the original proposal will expedite matters. First envisioned as a replacement for the Regional Skills Center campus in Marion County, the plan now calls for a facility to serve a variety of educational needs. Given current and projected regional demands for specialized education and job training, especially in technology related fields, the broader vision is far more useful and serviceable than the original.

The initial building on the new campus, according to planners, is likely to be a centrally located 12,000 -square-foot classroom building. Another classroom building or administrative offices would follow. For the moment, vocational classes would remain at the Regional Skills Center. Regional planners agree, however, that eventually it should be replaced or moved since the current site has little room for expansion. How and when that will occur remains a topic of discussion.

For the moment, it appears that Chattanooga State would become a tenant at the new campus, though officials there will continue to play a role in its planning. Eventually, an expanded Marion County campus could house not only Chattanooga State programs, but provide space for programs from schools and colleges such as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of the South, Bryan College and Lee University. Such collaboration would provide new educational opportunities for students in Southeast Tennessee, the Sequatchie Valley and North Alabama.

Marion County and other officials involved in planning the new campus are quick to point out that the facility will be an adjunct, not a replacement, for current facilities and classes. Chattanooga State officials also say that there are no plans to make changes at the school's Bledsoe County facility. Indeed, the new campus, when operational, should complement, not compromise, regional higher education options. It would bring a wide and useful array of post-secondary, technical and vocational courses to an area where such classes are not always available.

Students who currently commute long distances every day to attend classes likely will be the first to acknowledge the benefits of a new Marion County campus. Broader public acclaim is sure to follow.

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