The $14 million expansion of Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Morristown took a major step forward Thursday when the State Building Commission gave the go-ahead to begin work on the project.
The unanimous approval by the board means construction on the building could start soon with a targeted completion date of spring 2021.
“We had overwhelming support for funding the building,” said Jerry Young, president of TCAT-Morristown. “It’s 100 percent approved.”
The expansion at TCAT-Morristown will include a 45,342-square foot technology training facility to be used for advanced manufacturing. The building will contain labs and classrooms that will provide education in skills such as welding, HVAC and machine tool technology. Another key area of study in the new building will be mechatronics, a specialized engineering training key within the auto industry.
The new building will sit off West Morris Boulevard where the city of Morristown’s Public Works Department is currently located and will provide a “front door” to the college, officials said.
State Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, has been instrumental in working on the project since it started in 2013. He said he’s been happy to see the community involvement in the project since it first began.
“It’s a big relief for the final stage to come,” Southerland said. “Now we’re just waiting on groundbreaking and getting ready. We’ve been working on this for years and it’s been a community effort. Everyone working together, that’s something you don’t see a lot of. Everyone from the community to the state worked together. When you work together, this is what you can accomplish.”
Young said groundbreaking for the project could happen within the next 30 days. The property is currently owned by the city of Morristown and officials said the deed for the property could be transferred to TCAT-Morristown within the next 30 days.
The site will be on a 6.85 acre lot for the building and parking. The building will include classrooms, a mechatronics lab, administrative offices, a large multi-purpose room and catering space.
The construction of the building comes at an opportune time, officials said. Van Hool, a large Belgium-based bus manufacturer, announced last year the company would be building a large manufacturing plant in Morristown. Oshkosh Corp., a Wisconsin-based company, opened a plant in Jefferson City this year that manufactures specialty trucks and military vehicles.
TCAT-Morristown served as a vital part in bringing Van Hool to Morristown with school officials traveling to Belgium to meet with company officials. Young also said Van Hool company officials toured the campus and said the college’s programs helped with the recruitment of the European company that is expected to bring in 640 jobs over a five-year period.
Young said because of these new industries, welding classes are much needed at the college.
“Welding is definitely priority one,” he said. “With the new industries, the incoming industries in our service areas, the growth of existing industries, welding has become a very high demand field. Adding additional welding space when this building comes online is going to be a major boost for the business and manufacturers in our area.”
Young and other state officials said Wednesday the addition with the new facility will help TCAT-Morristown’s goal to be the hub of advanced manufacturing technology training for its 10-county service area and will also help with industrial recruiting efforts for the region.
State Rep. Rick Eldridge, R-Morristown, said it was win for the area.
“This is something very much needed in Hamblen County with all the growth going on within industry,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for us and all the surrounding counties.”
Flora Tydings, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, the body that oversees TCAT campuses across the state, thanked the city of Morristown for the gifting of the property and thanked the legislators and administrators who helped work on the project.
“We see this facility not only serving to work seamlessly with local industry for advanced training, but will also serve to help Morristown and the region to support recruiting new manufacturing industries,” she said. “The design and location of the new building will help in the need to develop a new image for TCAT-Morristown.”
R. Jack Fishman, chairman of the Morristown Industrial Development Board, said the work by those involved is highly significant for the region.
“The TCAT expansion and particularly the curriculum that will be offered is highly significant for providing the opportunity to obtain the skills necessary to provide a good quality of life for citizens of the Lakeway Area,” he said. “Members of city and county governments, legislators and the Board of Regents all have worked closely the leadership of your local campus to achieve this accomplishment.”
Young said it is important for the campus to keep striving to improve the campus in order to meet future needs of industry. He said industry is ever changing and TCAT-Morristown wants to continue to strive to keep up with technology advancements.
“We can maintain status quo, but that’s not going to help us with growth,” he said. “The growth we’re seeing is more welders, more HVAC technicians and more machinists,” he said. “We’re hoping with the mechatronics training, that takes us into a whole new level of manufacturing.”
Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson, a member of the State Building Commission, voted in favor of the proposal and said Southerland has done tremendous work in making sure the project kept continuing.
“I’m glad we’re able to provide funds to expand workforce development training and the Morristown TCAT location is a great location for this growth,” he said. “Morristown is lucky to have wonderful advocates for its community.”
Young said he’s happy the college is taking the next step forward.
“TCAT Morristown’s new Advanced Manufacturing Training Facility is a much-needed and welcome addition to the college,” he said. “This new facility will help the college continue to serve business and industry in our service area and promote student success and workforce development. It is TCAT Morristown’s goal to be the central point for advanced manufacturing training in our 10-county service area.”