Satellite TCAT campus in Boones Creek back ‘on the front burner’

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BOONES CREEK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL_1551912802400.PNG.jpg

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Aspiring heavy equipment operators, budding chefs and future carpenters could be honing their skills at the former Boones Creek Elementary School by fall 2021.

Local and state officials Monday discussed progress toward opening a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) satellite there during a virtual meeting.

For 20 months, Washington County officials and TCAT-Elizabethton leaders have agreed on the concept for a campus that would broaden availability in several programs.

Funding had been a barrier, but the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) now appears set to request $12 million for TCAT-Elizabethton capital projects.

“One of the good things … that I heard this morning at the meeting is that we would begin serious discussions just after the first of the year planning for some of these things to stand up in 2021 with hopefully the opening and starting of these courses in the fall,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy told News Channel 11 following the meeting. “(I’m) very excited to finally have this thing up and on the front burner.”

The conversations about a satellite, Grandy said, began with leaders discussing what he called “the desperate need for construction tradespeople in our region.” Those talks coincided with pending availability of the school, which has been replaced by a new K-8 facility.

Grandy, Washington County School Superintendent Bill Flanary and TCAT representatives talked Monday with state leaders and representatives from an architectural firm about the proposed new statewide TCAT master plan, which includes a recommended $7 million for work at the Boones Creek site. Grandy said that’s enough to raze the original round school on the 25-acre site and replace it with a new classroom facility.

Final release of the funds could occur as early as mid-2021.

A 12-classroom building with a gym and commercial kitchen, built after the original school, would likely stay. It could house classes in culinary arts and hospitality-related training and some construction trades even as a new building is in the planning and construction phases, Grandy said.

“Most area high schools have culinary programs, and this would be an opportunity for folks that were interested in pursuing that to transition on to the hospitality industry,” he said.

As for the construction market, at least currently, “it doesn’t make any difference which builder you talk to or which construction company, there is a need of workers, and more importantly skilled workers, to get this construction work done.”

The current plan envisions Washington County schools transferring the property free of charge to the state, or arranging a cost-free lease. Grandy said Flanary’s top priority is to get out from under the utility and insurance costs still saddling his district for an empty building — with an educational use providing an added bonus.

Other potential subject areas for the site include diesel mechanics and heavy equipment operator courses. TCAT-Elizabethton’s diesel program typically has at least a six-month waiting list, while the heavy equipment operator program would be a new one.

“All of our heavy equipment construction companies are in need of operators, and that looked like a real potential,” Grandy said, noting the large campus size as a plus.

The existing kitchen actually served multiple schools. Grandy said it could offer a good starting point for a culinary program.

In the case of culinary and construction, area schools including the three high schools in Washington County — Daniel Boone, Science Hill and David Crockett — all have Career Technical Education (CTE) programs from which students could take dual enrollment courses at the site.

“That way when they come out of high school they’re already part of the way through the courses,” Grandy said. He added that 14 high schools are within easy access distance of the site, which is just off of Interstate 26’s exit 17.

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