Abandoned Cleveland, Tennessee, factory repurposed into $33 million vocational school
CLEVELAND, Tenn. – In an abandoned factory that was built 75 years ago to supply uniforms to the military after World War II, a coalition of businesses, federal, state and local governments is revamping the 256,100 square foot complex into a pioneer vocational training school which organizers hope can serve as a model for providing workers for many high-demand jobs in the future.
By this fall, more than 500 middle and high school students from four area high schools will study everything from diesel engines and welding to culinary arts and audio-visual skills at the regional training center taking shape near downtown Cleveland. Known as the Bradley County Partnership in Industry and Education (PIE) Innovation Center, the $33 million complex has garnered support from nearly a dozen local businesses and foundations, as well as the local school system and from various government agencies.
Bradley County Schools Superintendent Linda Cash said the former American Uniform Co. factory, which operated for nearly 60 years before closing in 2006, provided a structure that could be further developed. profitable for vocational training than the construction of a new school. The facility is centrally located to serve students from Bradley, Meigs, and Polk counties and will have space to house corporate learning programs, the local UT extension service, and even a local bank branch to help students to learn about saving and investing and a counseling center to help students with mental health issues and other complementary services.
The two floors will house up to 38 tenants, including the vocational school and a separate alternative school for problem students.
Abandoned Cleveland factory turned into $33 million vocational school
The facility receives financial or training support from local businesses such as McKee Foods, Wright Brothers Construction, the Center for Sports Medicine, and Cleveland State Community College, among others, and is designed to be a stand-alone education model.
“This facility can really change education and our workforce development pipeline,” Cash said, noting that the new facility is expected to train nearly three times as many vocational students as schools. local high schools are currently educating. “With aging baby boomers retiring, we need to create a talent pool for the future and give our students who may not want to go to 4-year college a chance to develop their skills for paid jobs. There are a lot of good jobs in our community and we need to let our students know about them and prepare them.”
The new facility will encourage more work-based learning opportunities and should facilitate better links between schools and businesses that are likely to hire many of the PIE center’s graduates, Cash said. A variety of work certifications will be offered at the new school for students who will then be qualified to go to work or upgrade their skills at local community colleges.
“We recognize that we need to help build our pool of future workers,” said Steve Wright, president of Wright Brothers Construction in Charleston, Tennessee.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, who helped secure an initial $4.5 million federal grant in 2014 to begin planning for the center, and U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., who, in as Commissioner of Economic and Community Development under the government. Bill Haslam has been pushing for more professional training, both of whom praised the new PIE center during a tour on Friday.
“This type of facility is so appropriate and so needed, and I will be meeting with Secretary of Labor (Marty) Walsh next week and talking to him about it as an example of what our country so badly needs,” Fleischmann said.
Hagerty said these job training facilities are key to bringing more industries and jobs into the voluntary state.
“From my time as Economic Development Commissioner, I have recognized that this is a vital need, particularly to help make our rural areas highly competitive,” he said. “And I’ve always thought that a good job solves so many of the social problems that we face.”
Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.