By Scott Robertson
Northeast State Community College will close its Bristol campus at the end of the fall 2017 semester. The decision is part of the College’s correction action plan to align revenues and expenses. Northeast State recently trimmed $5 million to balance its 2018 budget.
“The process we went through in making the decision on Bristol was the same way with everything else,” President James King said. “We have analyzed basically every aspect of our operations.
King pointed to two factors that drive the Bristol site decision. “We did not feel like the existing site was conducive to higher ed and to student growth. There was going to be a limited number of students that would max out somewhere around 140, with some being part-time. Then we had a lease that was expensive so we were losing somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 to 500,000 a year.”
A recent audit by the Tennessee Board of Regents backed the decision, saying, “the benefits of the site do not justify the current cost of the agreement.” The College currently pays $22,986.51 per month for the 16,000 square-foot site. Payment on the facility will continue until the lease expires on Feb. 18, 2018.
“This move will make the College stronger financially and increase the efficiency of operations,” King said. “We appreciate the support we have enjoyed in Bristol and want to keep the door open for a future presence in the community. We told city leaders, ‘We are not abandoning Bristol. We are going to start over. This was a business decision, simple as that.”
The 620 State St., facility opened in 2013 with 102 students. The site currently enrolls about 140. “I don’t think we’ll lose a single student in this process,” King said. “In fact, it amazed me that around 80 percent of the students were driving past Blountville to take classes in Bristol.”
King said personnel at the Bristol site would be relocated to Northeast State’s campuses in Blountville, Johnson City, and Kingsport. There will be no employee reductions associated with the move.
The college’s Entertainment Technology program, which is housed at the Bristol site, will be moved to Blountville. Dual enrollment students taking classes at the Bristol facility will move to Tennessee High.
In addition, King said, Northeast State is planning to move classes from its Gray campus to the main campus in Blountville and to the Johnson City site and will sell the Gray site. That site in Gray is less than eight miles from the main campus. It primarily houses offices for the Adult Basic Ed (ABE) and Aviation programs. “That building is not conducive to aviation,” King said. “We could not get an FAA-approved program in that building. We moved ABE to Johnson City and we’re looking at areas for the Aviation program right now. We’re talking with the Aerospace Park folks at the airport about potentially building on that site, working with grants that are already in play.”
King said any funds received from the sale of the Gray site will be put toward the college’s match for the long-planned Emerging Technologies Building in Blountville.
The Johnson City site will continue to operate, but under an agreement that is more much affordable to the college. “We invested a lot of money in that site to bring it up to par. We had also borrowed some money from local governments that we have been paying back. So in paying that back, the lease had been about $270,000. Next year it goes down to $12,000. It’s going to be a great deal. It’s a site with a lot of future.”
King said the college plans to renegotiate the Elizabethton site lease. “My future dream for that site is actually a capital project. We’ve been in Elizabethton for 20 years and have proven to be successful. We should have started looking at building our own site in Elizabethton a long time ago.”
“But the key point in all of this is that these are all business decisions,” King said. “Every one.”