Christening a dream

Blount County campus of Pellissippi State celebrates grand opening

Cutting the ribbon on the new Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College are, from left, Steve West, Peggy McCord, Pellissippi State President Dr. Allen Edwards, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning, former Pellissippi State President J.L. Goins, Tennessee Board of Regents member Judy Gooch, Knoxville Mayor and candidate for governor Bill Haslam, Blount County Mayor-elect Ed Mitchell and Jerome Moon

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Cutting the ribbon on the new Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College are, from left, Steve West, Peggy McCord, Pellissippi State President Dr. Allen Edwards, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning, former Pellissippi State President J.L. Goins, Tennessee Board of Regents member Judy Gooch, Knoxville Mayor and candidate for governor Bill Haslam, Blount County Mayor-elect Ed Mitchell and Jerome Moon

Pigs flew on Wednesday.

Dr. Allen Edwards, president of Pellissippi State Community College, was carrying a ceramic pig with wings following the ribbon-cutting at the school’s new Blount County campus.

“This is symbolic,” he explained, adding that the pig was given to him by someone on the Pellissippi staff to commemorate the grand opening of the new Blount campus. “It took us forever to get here.”

More than 500 folks showed up in the amphitheater at the new Blount County Campus of Pellissippi State Community College to celebrate the grand opening. From conception to reality, the campus, just off West Lamar Alexander Parkway near Friendsville, has been 18 years in the making, said former Maryville Mayor Steve West, who helped with the private fundraising.

It was a day of celebration, with a few surprises thrown in. Peggy McCord, who has also been at the helm of the private fundraising for the new campus, announced that West has donated money for the rights to name the fountain in front of the amphitheater, which he has named in honor of his wife, Ruth West.

West and McCord helped raise $2.1 million to equip and open the school, supplementing the state funds designated to build it. “We raised $2.1 million for new equipment, technology and a lot of needed things that put a Blount County stamp on this campus,” West said.

West said donors also gave $675,000 for scholarship endowments for Blount County students. “It has been wonderful working with the others on the campaign,” he said. “Hundreds of people made this a reality. I don’t care if you gave $1 or $500,000, your support was critical.”

Charles Manning, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents that oversees 45 institutions, including six regional universities, 26 technology centers and 13 community colleges that serve 190,000 students, was on hand to honor the grand opening. “I absolutely believe what is really worth doing is never easy, and, by that criteria, this was worth doing -- because it was not easy,” he said. “It was a longtime coming.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam congratulated the community and talked of the importance of education. He said the state is 33 percent behind the national average in terms of adults who have a college degree. “The most effective way to deal with that is with the building standing behind us,” he said.

“This will make a difference as we attack that (statistic) going forward.”

Incoming Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell said that when he was growing up, there were some opportunities but not as many as young people have today, opportunities that are enhanced by the introduction of the new Blount County campus. Mitchell said that when he was speaking with people during his campaign, a need for jobs was the most pressing concern folks shared with him.

“Pellissippi State gives us a leg-up when companies are looking for an educated workforce,” he said. “It makes Blount County an attractive place for companies to bring their industry.”

Jerome Moon, past Pellissippi State Community College Foundation chair, former chair of the site election committee and current member of the Foundation board of trustees, said that, as a foundation board member, he wants everyone to consider donating to help fund scholarships for students. “This year, 266 students applied for 84 scholarships. The foundation provides a way for you to invest in these young people’s education,” he said. “Education is the key that starts the engine of economic progress in Blount County.”

Ruth West did not know was that her husband made the donation to name the amphitheater foundation in her honor, Steve West said. “I surprised her with naming it for her. She’s been a partner with me in all the things we’ve done. I thought it was a nice thing to honor her for putting up with me for 38 years,” Steve West said.

Steve West said there are still plenty of opportunities for folks to support Blount County students by contributing to the scholarship endowment fund. “There are plenty of needs for more people to contribute to help kids. Call the Pellissippi State Foundation. Money goes a lot further at Pellissippi than at other institutions, because they keep tuition as low as possible,” he said.

Fred Forster, retired CEO and president of the Blount Chamber Partnership, said it was an exciting day. “It speaks well of the community, pulling together to make this a reality,” he said.

Joy Bishop, community volunteer, said Wednesday was a big day in Blount County’s history. “We’ve waited a long time, but, with the generosity of our people, it’s a reality and a proud day,” she said.

Joe Dawson, retired administrator of Blount Memorial Hospital, said the key to success is an educated community. “This school offers college-level education to everyone in the community, regardless of age or status,” he said. Dawson also praised the new nursing program at the campus, adding that it gives the hospital a new resource for recruiting nurses.

Joe McCord, outgoing District 8 State House representative, said there were at least two times when the new campus was on the chopping block. Three years ago, when the state was flush with revenues, it appeared the campus wouldn’t be funded. State Sen. Jamie Woodson put it on the Senate Education Committee’s recommended list of projects. Because there was an agreement that the State House would adopt the Senate’s list, it made it in, he said.

State Sen. Doug Overbey, who was in the State House with McCord when the project was first voted on, said that four projects were up to be funded and the Blount County campus was the fourth project. “There was a lot of talk about just doing the top three,” he said. “Sen. Jamie Woodson and Sen. Ben Atchley worked together to keep it in the budget and keep it funded. This is an important part of higher education in Blount County. This is valuable.”

Even after ground was broken in 2008-09, the project showed up on a list of projects to be cut. “I’ve never seen Doug Overbey’s jaw drop like it did when we walked in and saw it was on a list of proposed cuts,” McCord said. “We have to thank Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for stopping that,” McCord said.

After the ceremony, guests gathered under a large tent in the parking lot for sandwich lunches. Dick Ray, former manager of Alcoa, Inc., Tennessee Operations and a current member of Tennessee State Board of Education, praised the work of those who made the campus possible. “It certainly supports the State Board of Education goals to see that post-secondary education is available to as many deserving kids as possible, and this is example of what is needed across the state,” he said.

Ron Kesterson, chief financial officer of Pellissippi State Community College, said the campus was unbelievable. “This college brings a full program to Blount County,” he said, citing the new nursing and industrial technology programs.

Holly Burkett, assistant dean of the Blount County campus, said the students are thankful for the new campus. “They’re in awe,” she said. ‘“They said, ‘I can’t believe this is finally happening.’”

Lanny Cope, president of Cope Associates, the architects for the project, praised the lawmakers who allocated funds to build the campus and the community residents who raised $2.1 million to equip it. “We had all the resources needed to make this a first-class job,” he said.

Peggy McCord said, “I’m absolutely thrilled to death. We’ve finally got the kind of campus kids in Blount County can be proud of,” she said. “They can be proud to say they attend Pellissippi.” Of the new nursing program, McCord said it is already popular. “We had 250 apply for 40 openings in the class,” she said.

Bo Henry, Burkett’s father and former four-term member of District 20 State House of Representatives, said 18 years ago, when the Pellissippi campus opened in Blount County at the former Bungalow School, a new facility was already a goal. “We dreamed of this place, and finally it has come to pass,” he said. “It’s is something we’re proud of.”

Moon praised those who helped make the new campus and the endowment possible. “I’ve been working with a lot of dedicated and determined Blount Countians,” he said. “It’s good to see this harvest of their labor. What an impressive facility! It provides the tools for them to take care of themselves and their families.”

Teri Brahams, executive director of Business and Community Services, said it was hard to describe how satisfying the ribbon-cutting was. “It responds to the needs of businesses and industry for their training, and it provides opportunities for students. They can get those skills right here in Blount County. I’m ecstatic,” she said.

Les Fout, director of Major Gift Development with the Pellissippi State Foundation, said he has been in Tennessee with the college for eight years. “From my first week on the job, people have been talking about the need for a new Blount County campus. To see 500 people here, it’s a great feeling,” he said.

Fout said he was impressed at how hundreds of people and businesses came together to encourage the state to build the school and then privately raised $2.1 million to equip it and $700,000 for an endowment. “People in Blount County are so passionate about education and providing opportunities for future generations,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

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