By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
Since it was closed to make way for a new K-8 school, things have been quiet at the site of the old Boones Creek Elementary School.
That will change in a big way later this year as work begins to demolish part of the building and rehab the rest to house a new Tennessee Center for Applied Technology (TCAT) campus. The facility will serve as a satellite for the main TCAT campus in Elizabethton and open opportunities for more students – particularly those in Washington County – to get the training they need to enter the workforce.
Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said nearly $20 million was allocated for the project in last year’s state budget. Gov. Bill Lee is proposing another $370.8 million in this year’s budget to add an improve TCAT locations around the state, including Northeast Tennessee’s main campus in Elizabethton.
“Our TCAT was funded last year at close to $20 million,” Grandy said. “That project has been in design now for 7 or 8 months. We expect to begin demolition on part of it and rehab on part of it within the next few months and open classes there in the fall.”
State Representative Tim Hicks told the News & Neighbor that classes will begin on a small scale this August while construction begins on a new facility that will house “20 to 25” programs designed to get students workforce-ready. Both Washington County Schools and Johnson City Schools have invested in Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs designed to prepare students for success in the trades after high school, but Hicks believes work needs to begin earlier to identify students who are best suited for that career track.
“It’s extremely important, and I think we have to start earlier,” he said. “Years ago, we gave students a different opportunity starting in the eighth grade. They had a different path, and I think we need to bring that back.”
Grandy and Hicks are both optimistic about the benefits Lee’s Transportation & Infrastructure Modernization legislation could bring to Northeast Tennessee. During his State of the State address, Lee proposed $3 billion to help fund rural and urban road projects across the state. That included $750 million for each of the state’s four TDOT regions and $300 million to expand the state’s aid program for local road projects.
In the past, TDOT allocated funding to widen Boones Creek Road, which has become a crucial connector between Exit 17 of Interstate 26 and the town of Jonesborough, but not enough to complete the project in a single phase. Growth trends in the region coupled with new housing being constructed at the Jonesborough end of the road make completion of the project crucial.
“Half of Boones Creek was in the plan, but you can’t take a road that really goes from the interstate to Jonesborough and only do half of it,” Grandy said. “The logic makes sense to do it in pieces that you can fund, but the reality is it doesn’t translate into a workable project.”
“If this comes through and we’re able to actually do it and fix this corridor, it’s really huge in being able to manage a lot of the growth we’re seeing in our community.”