New Construction Career Center in Chattanooga develops the next generation of builders

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Three years ago, when the Associated General Contractors was looking for a new training ground to attract more construction workers, Chattanooga Councilman Chip Henderson suggested the local building association consider a abandoned elementary school in East Chattanooga.

When local leaders first saw the former Mary Garber School on Roanoke Avenue, the 68-year-old facility was in such disarray the school system was only able to use half of the 28,000-square-foot building for storage.

But on Friday, after an $8.4 million renovation over the past year, the renovated building officially opened as a construction career center that community leaders have heralded as a model for the nation. The new center was developed and built with public and private funds and will provide the necessary training in high-demand carpentry, masonry, plumbing and electrical work for high school students and adult learners.

“This, like much of Chattanooga, is a reconstructed story where we’ve given new life and purpose to an old asset,” Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce Acting President Charles Wood said during a briefing. grand opening ceremony at the center on Friday.

In the dual-enrollment program between Hamilton County Schools and Chattanooga State Community College, 80 students are already enrolled this fall at Howard and East Ridge High Schools to earn one of five different construction certifications to go to work as soon as leaving school or pursuing more advanced construction work. business skills. Next year, the school plans to enroll 160 high school students from Howard, East Ridge and Brainerd and 40 other adult learners to learn the skills to help build infrastructure.

“This is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve seen across the country,” Steve Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press during a visit to the school on Friday. “This project is an incredible example of a state-of-the-art training center with broad community support that offers students the opportunity to consider multiple career opportunities in areas where we clearly need more of workers.”

Sandherr said there are currently 350,000 construction jobs open across the country, and with the average construction worker now over 40, at least 40% of the current U.S. workforce construction industry is set to retire within the next decade, according to projections from Associated Builders and Contractors.

These jobs typically have above-average pay levels, as the average construction worker in America is now paid around $35 an hour.

Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp, who also sits on the Tennessee Board of Regents, said the skills training offered at the new center will improve the lives of its students and help the construction industry meet its future talent needs. .

“This is just the beginning,” Wamp promised.

Wood said the Chamber is already considering expanding those skills training efforts to meet future workforce needs.

The Construction Career Center represents the first partnership in Tennessee between a community college, local school district, and nonprofit training program and was funded by $2 million in grants each from the city, county, and state. state, plus an additional $4 million in local contributions. foundations and private donors.

The school’s downtown location allows many students to attend vocational training who otherwise would not be able to attend the vocational training currently offered at Sequoyah High School in Soddy Daisy, and the installation should help stimulate the revitalization of one of the low- income neighborhoods. Already, the Nippon Paint Co. is building a $61 million plant next to the Construction Career Center on the site of the former Harriet Tubman housing project. and Councilwoman Marvene Noel of Orchard Knob said she hoped for another development as part of the “East Chattanooga Rising” effort launched by former Mayor Andy Berke.

US Representative Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, said support for vocational training is growing in popularity across all policy perspectives and is needed to balance the focus on 4-year college programs in the past, which has not were not necessarily suitable for everyone.

Fleischmann admitted that in his own upbringing he was strong at learning books but struggled in high school classes to build with his hands.

“We know these students here at this Construction Career Center have a gift from God for their skills and talent,” Fleischmann said. “Let’s elevate them like we do for the students who score the highest on the ACT exams. I want every person in America to have their skills recognized and we need these students to help us build America.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said the Construction Career Center offers the potential to change the lives of students enrolled in the program by giving them a pathway to higher-paying jobs. Kelly, who campaigned for mayor promoting his “One Chattanooga” plan to bring the community together, said widespread support for the center from the state, city, county, AGC, foundations and private donors emphasize support for new educational pathways.

“In trying to fill the gaps in our community, it really has to start with education to give people the marketable skills to make upward mobility possible,” he said. “This is a huge step forward for our community.”

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected], or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @DFlessner1.

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