ELIZABETHTON — The Herman Robinson Campus of the Tennessee Technology Center — Elizabethton has been serving the vocational training needs of the region since 1965. A few local educators began discussions this week to enable the campus to continue meeting those needs for many years in the future.
Before the campus can celebrate its 50th birthday, its educational mission for post-high school students will be at an end. However, talks have begun on a possible new mission for the campus to provide technical education for high schoolers in the Carter County and the Elizabethton City school systems.
Next month, construction will begin at the technology center’s main campus in the Watauga Industrial Park to consolidate all of the programs and classes in one campus. The end of the split campus will make things easier for faculty, staff and students who must now deal with two campuses located several miles apart.
Construction will take about 15 to 18 months, so the talks on the future of the Herman Robinson campus are just beginning, but there is already the knowledge that a plan needs to be developed quickly.
“We would prefer it to be used for an educational purpose,” said Dean Blevins, director of the Tennessee Technology Center — Elizabethton. Blevins and other TTC-E administrators met with officials and school board members from the two school systems last week and took them on a tour of the facility. The local educators came away impressed.
“We had an good meeting with Mr. Blevins,” said Ed Alexander, superintendent of the Elizabethton City Schools. “The building was constructed in 1965 but it is in excellent condition.”
Kevin Ward, soon-to-be interim director of the Carter County School System, said the joint acquisition of the building “would be a big benefit to us. It would offer more at a reduced cost.”
Ward said the joint operation of the center would not only be beneficial to both school systems, but also to TTC-E.
“We could develop a curriculum that would be tied in to the Technology Center, where they could receive students that have had more advanced training. We could provide the fundamentals of diesel mechanics and welding. We could possibly start an entry level machinist program where they get a taste of it in high school and then go on to the Technology Center.
Ward said the campus was also centrally located for the county’s high schools. Because the various classes are now taught at different schools, he said the students must crisscross. With all classes taught at the Herman Robinson campus, that problem would be eliminated.
Alexander said the city school system has recognized the need to supplement its vocational programs. “What programs we have are good, but we just don’t have enough of them.”
Another strong supporter of the effort to convert the Herman Robinson Campus into a high school technology center is Bob Robinson, instructional development coordinator for the Tennessee Technology Center-Elizabethton, and the son of Herman Robinson.
“He would have been proud to have it continue helping students,” Bob Robinson said. His father overcame many hurdles to achieve an education and when he later became a state senator he worked to make vocational education attainable to all.
Bob Robinson said his father “had cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk until he was 10 years old. He had a homebound teacher until he was enrolled as a regular student in public school. After graduating from Elizabethton High School and East Tennessee State Teacher’s College, the forerunner of East Tennessee State University, he returned to teach at Elizabethton High School.
“My father said he was motivated to overcome his cerebral palsy-related disability by the nurturing of his mother, the support from his high school football coach and the encouragement of his wife.”
Robinson said his father later became a journalist and was elected state senator, representing Carter, Greene, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties and served five consecutive two-year terms in the 1950s and 1960s.
Although he was a Republican serving in a legislature dominated by the Democratic Party, Robinson wanted a vocational technical education made available to all young Tennesseans. In 1963, he introduced legislation to establish 27 state area vocational technical schools in strategic locations so that there was one within a 50-mile radius of every resident in the state.
The bill became law and one of the very first of the new schools was started in Elizabethton in 1963. The first classes were started in 1965.
Although he is proud the campus honors his father, Robinson supports the consolidation of TTC-E into one campus. He said it is the only one of the 27 technical centers in the state that has a split campus.
Instead of a split campus, the old center may now become a unifying asset for two school systems. Ward said the center could encourage the city and the county to work together “on a plan and share scarce resources in these tight economic times.”