Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips and Northeast State Technical Community College's Bill Locke confer Monday night during the BMA's work session. Photo by Erica Yoon.
KINGSPORT - City leaders appear ready to take Bill Locke up on his offer to move all of Northeast State Technical Community College's medical programs to downtown Kingsport.
Last month, Locke came before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and pitched this idea to city leaders, basically asking the city to build a 30,000-square-foot building near the proposed higher education center and use the $3.5 million facility to accommodate all of the college's medical programs currently being offered in Elizabethton, Gray and Blountville.
Locke, NSTCC president, predicted this new allied health facility would have at least 200 students when it opens in the fall of 2008, since most of the students would be relocations of existing programs.
On Monday, Locke returned to the BMA seeking its approval and offered "hard" numbers regarding square footage, cost and number of students.
Locke said eight medical programs would be relocated to this new allied health facility - six currently being offered by NSTCC (nursing, cardiovascular technology, surgical technology, emergency medical technology, medical laboratory technology and dental laboratory technology) and two from elsewhere (King College's nursing program and the Tennessee Technology Center's LPN program).
After going through the numbers, Locke said the actual number of students that would be in the new facility would be around 400 instead of the 200 quoted last month. Locke also compiled a list of each program's space needs, which came to nine lecture rooms, 13 labs, 43 offices, a computer lab, seven rooms for storage and 11 miscellaneous rooms. However, Locke said some of the rooms could be shared among programs.
Locke offered the BMA three options on how big to build the facility - 40,000 square feet to house all eight programs; 38,000 square feet to house everything but the LPN program; and 30,000 square feet to house just NSTCC's six programs.
Locke said the best deal would be to have everything in one 40,000-square-foot building. This choice would increase the cost of the facility from $3.5 million to $4 million to $4.3 million.
"Our best option, we think, is if we had a 40,000-square-foot building, though we're not building in anything for growth, but the growth could be put in the higher education center," Locke said.
"It doesn't make sense to expand into the higher education center. It's incumbent upon us to plan for growth," Alderman Ben Mallicote said. "If we're going to do it, we need to plan to succeed."
Mayor Dennis Phillips agreed.
"I don't want to go into it with less if this is what we're going to do," Phillips said.
City Manager John Campbell outlined how much financial flexibility the city has over the next three years and offered the BMA four funding options to consider in how to finance the construction of an allied health facility.
Campbell said in 2010, approximately $4.47 million will roll off the city's debt. However, once you add in $1.9 million in unfunded capital projects for that year, the city has $2.57 million, not counting the financing of the higher education center or the allied health building.
The four ways to finance would be to use money from the fund balance, taking it from $17 million to $13 million, a move Campbell said could affect the city's bond rating. The second option is to go with 20-year general obligation bonds, which require $243,000 in capitalized interest to 2010.
Campbell said the BMA could choose a developer lease/purchase option or issue bond anticipation notes - short-term notes that would cost the city around $134,000 in payments each year.
Campbell's recommendation, which the BMA will vote to approve tonight, is for bond anticipation notes.
"The benefit of using short-term notes is it gives us ability to start immediately," Campbell said. "Rarely have we been presented the opportunity of bringing in students and faculty from other places."
Alderman Ken Marsh, speaking via phone Monday afternoon, said he was dismayed by the financing proposals put forth by Campbell and suggested revisiting the city's capital improvement plan (CIP) and re-prioritizing those projects to come up with the $4 million.
"It's what I asked you not to do," Marsh said to Campbell. "We need to re-prioritize the funding and debt already incurred. The money is already there. You haven't looked at that apparently."
Mallicote said the BMA should not be "mucking" around in the CIP.
"This board has had this debate and beat this horse to death and kept beating for weeks and weeks. I'm not interested in digging it up and beating it some more," Mallicote said. "I'm not in favor at all of taking another look at the CIP, and just thinking about bringing it up again gives me a headache."
Mallicote was not alone in that sentiment, because the other BMA members in attendance Monday night appeared ready to vote tonight to authorize the bond anticipation notes.
"I'd like to see the BMA authorize the bond anticipation notes to get started immediately, then we can sit down and go through the projects. To delay for two, three or four months is very critical," Phillips said.
"We've got a golden opportunity to do something … for the future growth needed to keep Kingsport where we want it to be," Alderman Valerie Joh said. "We don't need to get adversary about the financials. We can hash out the financing later. We need look at it in a positive way instead of something to fight about."
Alderman-elect Jantry Shupe said the BMA would be doing the future an injustice if it did not go forward with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.