Georgia Northwestern Technical College dropped plans to open a Catoosa County, Ga., campus on 37 acres at Cloud Springs and Dietz roads because of traffic worries.
Now, the college could wind up with a bigger campus near Interstate 75 in Ringgold, Ga.
College and county officials are considering building the campus on 50 vacant acres the county owns on Old Alabama Highway just north of Holcomb Road and across from Rollins Industrial Park.
"That's a prime place to put it," said Catoosa County District 2 Commissioner Robert "Bobby" Winters. "This is the best spot that's been talked about so far."
Because Georgia Northwestern Technical College already has plans for a 57,000-square-foot, $10.4 million campus building, it should take only a year to 14 months to complete construction once land is available, college President Craig McDaniel said.
"I think we can fast-track the construction," he said. "We have the funding to build the building, and we have engaged an architect."
The Catoosa County Economic Development Authority bought the acreage in 2008 for $2 million with the idea of developing it as an industrial park.
Architectural renderings of the proposed park are on display in the lobby of the Catoosa County Administration Building in downtown Ringgold.
The site has water and sewers, Winters said, but the economy has slowed demand for new industrial parks.
"There's so many buildings that are sitting vacant," he said, noting that Dalton, Ga., has a surplus of empty industrial space next to I-75.
The centerpiece of Georgia Northwestern Technical College's Catoosa campus would be an automated manufacturing lab to train students in robotics and other coursework in the college's "Auto Alley" initiative, which prepares them for jobs in the region's automotive industry.
"There's a very severe shortage of people, even for the flooring industry, who run automated processes," McDaniel said. "We're just trying to build a better pool of skilled workers."
Winters, who's been on the county commission for a decade, thinks the campus would help attract industry to Catoosa. He said he'd even be willing to give the college a discount on the land.
"I wouldn't want to pay the whole thing, but to help out a little, I don't mind doing that," Winters said.
McDaniel expects that, after three or four semesters, the Catoosa campus would have between 700 and 800 students, making it the college's fourth-largest campus.
Current enrollment is roughly 2,700 students at the Walker County campus; 2,550 in Floyd County; 900 in Gordon County; 360 in Whitfield County; and 280 in Polk County, McDaniel said.
Even if this 50-acre parcel doesn't pan out, the college still would build a Catoosa campus, he said.
"It's one of those things that's going to happen," McDaniel said. "I think we'll end up with a great campus up there."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.