published Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Marion County, Tenn., awaits fund OK for regional skills center

JASPER, Tenn. — Even though Marion County leaders still plan to open a regional skills center along U.S. Highway 41 in Kimball, Tenn., in January, they have been forced to play the waiting game before construction can begin.

The on-again, off-again plan to build the technical school has seen more than its fair share of pitfalls over the past four years.

Now, all county leaders can do is wait for funding approval from various federal and state entities.

"The documents have all been sent to the agencies," County Mayor John Graham said. "They are in their hands for review."

Graham said he will have a meeting this week with some of the parties involved in the process in hopes of finding a way to push the project along.

"I'm trying to get some sort of a timeline," he said. "Is this thing going to take two weeks or is it going to be six months? Nobody will tell me."

Graham said he was told recently that if he wrote a letter and asked U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to take action, it would begin "a full investigation" and the whole process would "start from scratch."

"Obviously, I wasn't going to do that," he said. "So, I'm trying to put this group together to get some information back to [the Marion County Commission]. Hopefully, next month we'll have some better news."

Last week, the county commissioners approved unanimously a lease agreement with Chattanooga State Community College to occupy the current regional skills center building in Kimball for the rest of the year.

Officials said they hope the next lease agreement the county enters into with Chattanooga State in January includes the first building on the proposed campus.

Commissioner Mack Reeves said it "seems like" the project is about three months behind schedule.

Some progress has been made, though, Graham said.

The contract with Dillard Construction Inc. in Dayton, Tenn., as the project's construction manager was approved recently by the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office, he said, a step required before the $1 million loan to construct the first building can be released.

"I don't have a date for release of the $1 million," he said. "That's what's holding us up."

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