Northeast State Community College offering classes in the Downtown Centre should help boost the number of college graduates in the region, which is a goal of the state, the school’s president said.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge signed documents selling the Downtown Centre, located in the heart of Johnson City, to the Johnson City Development Authority on Thursday. In the deal, the county will receive $1 million for the former courthouse and the JCDA will lease the building for a nominal yearly fee to NSCC and provide another $1 million for renovations.
“We’re just very excited and very appreciative to all the parties involved in this,” said NSCC President Janice Gilliam.
The lease agreement should be signed this week.
“Our next step would be to get with the renovation/design contractor,” Gilliam said. “It would probably take six to eight months to renovate.”
The plan is for NSCC to move into the building in the summer and begin holding general education courses there next fall. The courses at this teaching site would be useful for students who want to continue on to a four-year institution or pursue a program of study like computer science or nursing on the main NSCC campus in Blountville.
Other courses would be added as time went on, Gilliam said.
“We’re working with industry and business right now to see what need is out there,” Gilliam said of the additional courses to be offered at the Downtown Centre.
State legislators passed the Complete College Tennessee Act in 2010, which, among other things, required the state’s public colleges and universities to graduate more students.
“So this will play a major role in us meeting those expectations of the Complete College Act,” Gilliam said of NSCC utilizing the Downtown Centre.
But before classes can begin the building must be renovated to accommodate an educational setting. Gilliam said NSCC would begin the bid process for renovation contractors soon after signing the lease.
To begin with, Gilliam said the school would work on the outside of the building and install NSCC signage.
The courtrooms in the structure will not require much work to convert into classrooms, Gilliam said. NSCC speech and communication faculty have even requested one courtroom remain intact for use in public speaking and debate courses.
“They’re very excited about that,” Gilliam said.
A storage area exists just to the right of the Downtown Centre’s main entrance that could be easily converted into a classroom, Gilliam said. Plus, the overall storage space offered by the Downtown Centre is something needed by the school, she said.
“There’s lots of office space and there’s storage space, which we’re very short on on the main campus,” Gilliam said.
The school must keep certain documents for a number of years before disposing of them. Gilliam said some of those documents could be moved to the Downtown Center.
There are around 60,000 square feet of usable space in the Downtown Centre and NSCC hopes to have eight to 10 classrooms and several offices created.
Besides housing court, the Downtown Centre also contained the county clerk’s office and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. All those functions were relocated after the George P. Jaynes Justice Center opened in Jonesborough.
Gilliam said NSCC was working on obtaining a grant to do some more work on the building, but it would be a while before that grant could be awarded.
The school has budgeted $500,000 to furnish the building with desks, chairs, computers and other necessities, though.
“So we’ll start ordering those items and be making ready to get into the building in the summer,” Gilliam said. “There’s a lot to work through yet.”
There are about 350 parking spaces in a garage attached to the Downtown Centre.
“That’s going to be a major item appealing to students,” Gilliam said. “We hope at some point in five years we’ll have 1,000 students there, so that (parking garage) will be very helpful.”
Gilliam said a mural detailing the progression of the area from pre-colonial times until around 1950 that was on display in the main Johnson City SunTrust Bank branch has been gifted to NSCC. The mural will be on display in the Downtown Centre.
“I think it would just add a lot to the environment,” Gilliam said of the mural.
Some of the parking in the garage may be used for the public and public meeting space will be available in the Centre.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” Gilliam said. “We’re about the community.”