Career center under construction takes shape in Avondale to build Chattanooga’s future


Over the next 10 months, an abandoned elementary school in Avondale is expected to be redeveloped to help train the construction workers needed to build Chattanooga’s future.

State and local authorities on Tuesday inaugurated an $ 8 million project to renovate and equip the former Mary Garber Elementary School on Roanoke Avenue in East Chattanooga as a construction career center to train construction workers. . The Construction Vocational School is geared towards high school students and seniors as the newest campus of Tennessee College of Applied Technology and will also offer adult education for those past high school age.

“On so many levels, it’s a good project,” Governor Bill Lee said at the new school opening Tuesday. “This will provide an opportunity for Chattanoogans, young and old, to learn a skill and get straight into the construction industry, which we desperately need.”

Lee, a master plumber and owner of a construction company in Williamson County who ran his own apprenticeship program to train more than 1,000 construction workers, campaigned for governor two years ago on a platform that promised to build more vocational and business schools to offer degree-free programs. for trades in demand such as construction.

The Chattanooga Construction Career Center has been in development since early 2019 and is jointly funded by the State of Tennessee, the City of Chattanooga, the Hamilton County Government, and local foundations and Associated General Contractors (AGC) in the east. of Tennessee.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the public / private partnership behind the new training center underscores widespread recognition of the need for such a facility and should help ensure training is focused on real needs of the construction industry. Coppinger personally pressured Governor Lee to provide the state’s $ 2 million share of the project, which was matched equally by city, county and private donors.

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Career center under construction in Avondale

“It’s a great collaborative effort that started almost three years ago, and although we had a little hiatus due to the Covid pandemic, the reality is that in August 2022 this training center will be open, ”Coppinger said. “This is something our city and county has wanted for a long, long time and we have developed a great partnership with the Associate General Contractors who are in dire need of the talent that this school will provide.”

Hamilton County Schools donated the vacant 28,000 square foot Mary Garber School, which was built in 1954 and closed in 2002.

The school offers a lot more classrooms and a lot more floor space to develop than the original building trades complex envisioned by AGC leaders in East Tennessee. Leslie Gower, CEO of AGC of East Tennessee, said the builders initially considered opening a 5,000-square-foot training facility adjacent to their downtown office.

“We shared our concept of a construction career center with our county school system, and ultimately they were considering opening a new vocational school but wanted an industry partner to run it.” , Gower said. “At the same time, we approached Chattanooga State Community College and TCAT, and they were in the process of launching a new construction certification program.”

Ultimately, the parties came together to form a non-profit organization to fund and operate the Construction Career Center with an AGC career and industry center, high school vocational training program for construction and training. in TCAT construction for adults, all under one roof.

“Mayor Coppinger saw the power of an industry-led workforce initiative and the importance of AGC leading efforts to drive the curriculum and bring employers closer to students. Gower said.

Nancy Patterson, vice president of academic advancement and public relations in the state of Chattanooga, said the new construction center will train students in the trades of carpentry, masonry, plumbing, HVAC and electricity.

“They will know how to work with a construction crew, from reading blueprints and erecting structures to finishing a construction project,” she said. “By working with our AGC partners, these students can have the opportunity to work as interns on real sites. Which will strengthen their skills developed through practical training.”

The site is adjacent to the $ 61 million Nippon paint plant under construction and will include a few acres for future expansion.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340

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