The design for Shelbyville’s new Tennessee College of Applied Technology facility was approved last July by the State Building Commission.
According to TCAT-S President Laura Monks, this project will be completed in one phase, while the aim to open is the summer of 2024. That date is tentative, of course.
More events are planned for fall.
The current TCAT facility on Madison was one of the first in the state, according to Monks. Built in 1964, it was called the State Area Vocational-Technical School. Now the 400-plus students and faculty have outgrown the mid-century building as well as called for some expansion of the six other TCATs throughout the state.
The design has the facility at 100,000 square feet for the whole campus, according to Monks. That’s a jump from the current Madison Street facility’s 67,000 square feet. The new campus will hold around 1,000 students.
Monks explained the new design will include a lot of glass and windows, which inspires collaboration. It’s just another way to replicate that university feel.
“Just the atmosphere is going to be very much more open, more collaborative. It’s something the City and the County can use as a recruitment tool,” said Monks. There will also be more conference space for the community to use.
The state’s budget is $43 million with the project costing an estimated $41.9 million.
But costs have gone up. “Projects really slow down because of costs,” said Monks.
Roofing, insulation, glass (which has gone up in price by 40%), as well as products coming from Ukraine have delayed the timeline, Monks explained.
They are also having to mitigate wetlands and test for sinkholes at the new property, located on U.S. 231. Total, the TCAT-S facility will take up 20 acres of the 33-acre property purchased last year.
BC Higher Education Center
According to Monks, this particular project is called the Bedford County Higher Education Center. TCAT will be the main facility on the property, but it will also include classroom space for Motlow Community College and Middle Tennessee State University.
As demand for trained professionals increases, state officials continue to push for secondary education and vocational training.
Tennessee’s Complete College Act of 2010 changed the funding formula from enrollment-based to outcomes-based in order to increase the number of college graduates in Tennessee.
“That was where you separated your universities from your community colleges and technical colleges. Then TBR [Tennessee Board of Regents] took a more focused approach on community and technical college,” said Monks.
At the time, one of the major components of the conversation was the aging workforce. “We knew that the skills of the future, you had to have higher-level education—whether that be a technical degree, a certificate, an associate degree,” said Monks.
Former governor Bill Haslam initiated the “Drive to 55” program—by 2025, 55 percent of Tennessee will have some kind of credential or degree.
However, COVID slowed that down as more and more people left the workforce. “We have stayed steady with our enrollment...” said Monks. But “our community college partners, some of them have gone anywhere from 5 to 10 or 11% drop in enrollment.”
In total, TCAT-S averages around 600 students, including the MTech location at the Bedford County Business Complex on Dover Street and the Winchester facility (which has around 120 students) and the Lincoln County facility (40 students).
At the new Shelbyville campus, Monks said, “We’re looking to...build those classrooms out so we can hold 30-plus. The labs will be bigger to accommodate the needs as well.”
Monks said they hope to add diesel technology, cosmetology, supply chain logistics, and construction trades to their 18 available degrees. These will come eventually in the second phase of construction.
The new facility will also neighbor Duksan Electera, the new electrolyte manufacturer, at the 231 Industrial Park location. Monks said TCAT’s industrial electricity and industrial maintenance degrees would feed into this type of career.
“We’re ready,” said Monks.
Higher education data
According to Tennessee Higher Education Commission data, as of 2022, Bedford’s public high school graduation rate is 91.9%. This is higher than the state’s average of 89.6%.
Some 47% of those high school graduates go to college (for Tennessee, it’s 56.9%.) Those top colleges selected by Bedford’s 2020 graduates were Motlow, MTSU, TCAT-S, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and Columbia State Community.
In Bedford, adults with some college education are at 17.7%, while adults with an associate degree or higher is 23.4%.
Monks said they hope to increase these numbers through TCAT program availability. Currently, they have 50 students from the Bedford County School System who come every day for half-day courses.
“This year, we anticipate that number doubling,” Monks said. They also hope to go to the high schools, so students don’t have to drive to the TCAT campus.
According to LWDA (Local Workforce Development Area), in-demand occupations by projected growth for this County include mechanical engineers; physical therapist assistants; production, planning, and expediting clerks; substance abuse, behavior and mental health counselors; medical assistants.
“That’s what is unique about the whole technical college system is the programs that you find at a particular TCAT are there because that is what is needed in that particular area,” said Monks.
And with Tennessee growing as it is, “It’s dire we have a workforce with technical skills.”