BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — During a ceremony Thursday in front of Northeast State Community College’s future Technical Education Complex, college and Sullivan County officials and students celebrated the placement of the last steel beam on the frame of the structure.
Several Northeast State administrators, including President Bethany Flora, Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable, Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski and other county school administrators signed the beam that current students at the college had already signed and drew pictures on before the ceremony. They all watched and applauded as a crane hoisted the beam into place on top of the structure’s frame.
Flora said the $29.8 million complex is the largest capital project underway on any community college campus in Tennessee. It will include classrooms, lab space and faculty offices for the college’s advanced technologies, business technologies and entertainment technology divisions. Lab space will allow for computer numeric control machining, welding, HVAC/electromechanical, electrical and wiring, magnetic and motors, programmable logic controller/mechatronics as well as business, computer programming, PC maintenance, cybersecurity, networking, accounting, professional office administration and entertainment technology instruction. An entrepreneurial center will also be housed in the complex.
“It’s a huge deal for our region with regard to career and technical education,” she said. “The students will get to study in a state-of-the-art facility that no other college campus has.”
The complex will replace the college’s outdated and cramped manufacturing and career and technical education facilities, which were built in 1966 and 1967, Flora said. Construction is slated to wrap up in November in time for the complex to open by the beginning of the spring 2020 semester.
Flora said Northeast State is talking to companies about putting their equipment in the complex so students can demo it for clients they bring to Tri-Cities Airport, which is within walking distance. Also, the labs will have glass walls so those who walk down the halls can see robotics, machine tool, computer numerical control and welding students at work, she said.
“Current students can’t wait for it to be built,” said Northeast State Workforce and Economic Development Vice President Sam Rowell. “It really creates a unique opportunity being located right on the main spine of campus. It will be a major entryway into the courtyard and into the center of campus and so we’ll have students … in all disciplines able to go through and see what’s going on in a modern manufacturing facility. … We’re going to showcase it and bring back the dignity of the work.”
The courtyard will be built as part of the facility construction.
Students in area school systems, including Sullivan County Schools, can also benefit from the offerings by taking dual enrollment classes — earning college credits while in high school.
Sullivan County Schools Career-Technical & Post-Secondary Education Facilitator Aaron Flanary said the complex will only enhance the education that will be offered to students at the future career and technical education-focused West Ridge High School.
“What better time to be a high school student than right now? The options are endless,” he said.
The options, he added, are also at no cost to students because dual enrollment classes are free and so is tuition at technical and community colleges under the state’s Tennessee Promise scholarship programs.
“I can’t wait for the day when it’s embraced and we start marketing Sullivan County for what Sullivan County is and will continue to be in the future,” Rafalowksi said. “We’re a gem, and it’s getting polished right now. I think this is amazing.”
Venable said the complex is bringing to life what past Northeast State President William Locke and other past college officials envisioned for the future of Northeast State and the region’s educational opportunities.