City and local education officials have worked for the past several months on crafting a plan to bring a higher education center to downtown Kingsport. The plan got modified recently when Northeast State Technical Community College offered the city a proposal to relocate its eight medical programs, including nursing and an LPN program, to the downtown area.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen accepted the college’s offer and charged McCarty Holsaple McCarty — a Knoxville-based architectural firm — to conduct preliminary work on the project and narrow down four potential sites to one.
During a work session Monday afternoon, MHM representatives appeared before the BMA with a recommendation that the two educational facilities be built at the block of Clinchfield, Clay and Market streets. The other three sites were the Shelby Street parking lot, the Quebecor building and Supermarket Row (Sullivan Street from Clay to Clinchfield).
Doug McCarty, president of MHM, said the Clinchfield site was selected because of its close proximity to the downtown area, the Regional Center for Applied Technology and the Kingsport Area Transit System.
McCarty said the Supermarket Row site was too far away from the core downtown area and property acquisition would be a problem, plus it housed the only supermarket in the downtown area. McCarty said because of the speed of the project, the time to demolish the Quebecor building would be difficult, and the Shelby Street site is not large enough to accommodate an academic village.
In addition to recommending a site, MHM also presented conceptual drawings, which show the two main facilities, three potential expansion buildings surrounding a closed Market Street and Clinchfield, along with an adjacent parking garage.
According to the interim report, a 42,000-square-foot allied health building would be built on the site of city-owned public parking at the corner of Clay and Clinchfield. The 50,000-square-foot higher education center would be built at the corner of Clay and Market on the site of the old Tire Center building — a building purchased by the city earlier this year for $165,000.
City officials estimate 2,100 students would attend the two facilities. Currently about 1,000 attend the nearby Regional Center for Applied Technology.
Construction on the $4 million allied health building is slated to begin in October with an opening date of fall 2008. City leaders are planning to have the $12 million higher education center open by the fall of 2009. McCarty said a financial analysis of the Clinchfield site shows the higher education center could be built within the $12 million budget.
The BMA could take no official action on the site recommendation during Monday’s work session but appeared supportive of the choice. The allied health building plan is slated to go before the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission in September. An architect has not been selected for the higher education center.
Assistant City Manager Jeff Fleming said the block where the higher education center is slated to go has existing business nearby, and the city has been in contact with the property owners.
“We have appraised them, and we’re now in the process of trying to negotiate with them as to how to manage the acquisition of their property,” Fleming said, noting that not all of the property owners are willing to sell. “We do have a challenge as far as trying to work with them. We are trying to be very empathetic of their needs, where they might be willing to relocate, how much it would cost them, and we will try and be as generous as we possibly can to make that work.”
The allied health building would go in the parking lot at Clinchfield, and thus some parking spaces would be eliminated. Fleming said the city thinks there will still be adequate parking for the two facilities.
“When RCAT first opened, the Clinchfield parking lot was projected to fill up. Now we have 1,000 students who move through there in the course of a traditional semester, and so it’s not like they’re all there at the same time,” Fleming said. “We have found the average occupancy of the lot is 29 percent right now with RCAT fully operational.
“Our sense is even with this new construction the students will be needing the parking during the off periods when parking is not used by others during the workday.”