The Newport City Council meeting Tuesday evening approved an agreement with Walters State Community College to open a campus in Newport.

The lease agreement provides for the school to locate in the soon-to-be-renovated Tanner Building. Walters State will occupy space on the second floor of the building and will use that area to establish a Newport campus, with classes beginning in August. Dr. Tony Miksa, president of the college, told the attendees the space is perfect for an educational setting.

Conagra with 350 employees recently announced it will close its Newport plant in January 2021, and Miksa said he is hoping his school can help.

“With some of the changes coming up with business and industry, we will be able to train employees right here in the city and really grow our presence,” he told the council.

Newport Mayor Roland “Trey” Dykes thanked the Walters State team for the hard work they put into plans to make the local campus happen.

“Many of you didn’t know but this happened pretty suddenly,” the mayor told the audience.

He said the site will make college much more convenient and affordable to Cocke County residents, who can expect to see more classes offered in Cocke County beginning this fall.

Miksa added the site will provide the school the opportunity to work closely with employers in the area and teach the technical skills needed in the county.

“I sincerely believe that the addition of a WSCC facility for our community will prove to be a great asset for Newport and Cocke County,” said Dykes. “We look forward to the many contributions they will make to our educational system, to our citizens, and to our students. I would like to thank all the people involved with this effort to make this happen, including the staff of WSCC, Cocke County Partnership and the City of Newport. I believe this to be a first step in our community’s progress creating momentum for future development.”

Walters State has long offered night classes at Cocke County High School, usually offering four or five classes a semester, including dual enrollment courses.

The school will also provide support services for students including advising, career planning, test proctoring and student engagement activities.

Once reopened, the Tanner Building will host the offices of the Cocke County Partnership, Cocke County Senior Citizen Services, a tourism and information center with an area museum, as well as the Walters State Newport campus.

The council was told Newport Fire Chief Randy Ragen will retire in April. Resumes are currently being accepted for a replacement. The council will meet in a called meeting at 5:30 p.m. on March 2 to hear from the candidates for the post.

Ragen said he has been with the department for 30 years.

“It’s the best job in the world but the time is right to retire.”

The council approved Community Development Partners to administer two projects; putting in sidewalks on Cosby Road and on Broadway, as well as an extension to the Riverwalk.

The body voted 3 to 2 to reject a resolution for River Street and River Road to be renamed Waters Edge Street.

Kim Gregg, who has been in the vanguard of those pushing for the name change, told the body she was told by Municipal Technical Advisory Service the city should develop a policy to address requests for street name changes in the future.

Dykes congratulated Partnership Tourism Director Linda Lewanski, who recently was named Tourism Leader of the Year by the Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council.