KINGSPORT - Higher education is coming to downtown Kingsport.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night to move forward on bringing a higher education center to downtown Kingsport. The resolution calls for up to $2.5 million to be budgeted for architectural and engineering services and any potential land acquisition.
The idea being put forth is for a $12 million, 50,000-square-foot higher education center to be located somewhere downtown. Northeast State Technical Community College would operate the facility and offer the first two years of core courses. Participating universities and colleges would then offer their bachelor's and master's programs, with degrees being in the name of the university offering the program.
NSTCC President Bill Locke said the next steps will be to hire an architect, begin narrowing down a site for the center, and talk to their partners about designing a building.
"I'm just thrilled about the vote," Locke said. "It's a wonderful thing, and we're looking forward to a lot of hard work, making this center a reality and making it a success."
The University of Tennessee, King College, Tusculum College, Lincoln Memorial University and the Tennessee Board of Regents have all pledged their support for the center. Locke said officials at Milligan and Tennessee Tech have also been contacted about participating in the endeavor.
Though the city is moving forward with the higher education center, the decision was not made without some debate and discussion by the BMA.
Over the past few days, Aldermen Ken Marsh and Pat Shull have voiced their opposition to the process in which the proposal came forth, claiming the issue had been "railroaded" through by Mayor Dennis Phillips and arguing the public should have more time to study the issue before the BMA voted on it.
In the end, however, the two men joined with their fellow BMA members and approved the resolution.
Just prior to the vote, Shull made a motion for the BMA to defer taking action on the resolution. Marsh seconded the motion in order to get it on the table for discussion. Shull's motion, however, failed with a 2-5 vote.
Shull then explained why he made the motion.
"I think the issue deserves more examination and more opportunities for the citizens to catch up to this and express their opinion on this," Shull said, adding that the BMA should consider other locations for the higher education center.
However, in a 2005 Kingsport Chamber of Commerce candidate questionnaire, Shull wrote he was interested in a higher education center in downtown Kingsport, similar to the one in Abingdon.
Marsh said spending money on a higher education center prevents other projects from being done.
"This board has not faced what those things are yet. We have not prioritized our capital needs and wants. We can't have everything," Marsh said.
The BMA held two meetings in February where they discussed at length the city's five-year capital improvement plan. City Manager John Campbell presented a $48 million major projects list, which includes renovations at the V.O. Dobbins Center, the replacement of the Legion Pool, and the construction of a new fire station on East Stone Drive.
Campbell has said the city could do all of these projects - along with the higher education center - without an increase to the property tax rate. The BMA has not finalized the capital improvement plan.
"We stand here with seven institutions of higher learning saying to us ... would you build it for us? I don't see how we can say no. We must say yes," said Alderman Ken Maness.
Alderman Valerie Joh said Kingsport should not be "penny-wise and pound-foolish" when it comes to the higher education center.
"We have never had the type of support for a project from every major employer in the city," Joh said. "All are interested in this higher education center. This is a very necessary thing."
Alderman Ben Mallicote said the center would be a remarkable opportunity for the city of Kingsport.
"This has become very simple over the last week. The city can afford to do this, and the city can't afford to let this opportunity pass us by," he said.
No one from the public spoke against the proposal Tuesday night, and only one person spoke against it Monday night during a BMA work session.
Melissa Kern, who lives in Lee Apartments, has commuted to Bristol three to four days a week since April 2005 going to school, working to earn an associate's degree. Kern said she plans to receive the degree this May with a 4.0 GPA.
"It takes me over an hour each day to go back and forth to classes. If Kingsport had a higher education center in the downtown area, I would have had an opportunity to achieve my educational goals closer to home," Kern said. "My hope is my children have an easier time finding higher education closer to home. The center in downtown would be a wonderful complement and enable more low-income families to pursue their educational goals."
In other business Tuesday night the BMA:
•Approved spending $285,378 for the purchase of a tandem-axle automated garbage truck and 1,825 carts to be used to provide automated garbage collection service to Mount Carmel.
•Awarded a $697,500 bid to Armstrong Construction for the construction of a baseball field house inside J. Fred Johnson Stadium. The funds would come from $1.8 million in Kingsport City Schools' capital funds that were bonded last December.
•Agreed the regional sales tax fund would repay the general fund $3.8 million by 2014. This is money loaned from the general fund over the years to cover shortfalls in the tax to cover the expenses and debt at MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center and the Cattails Golf Course.
•Approved $75,000 in funding for the summer concert series. The concerts will take place on Thursday and Friday nights beginning in May and take place at the intersection of Broad and Market.