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Ground-breaking ceremony signals start of UT Martin Somerville Center renovations

12 - 12 - 2016

Contact: Bud Grimes

 



MARTIN, Tenn. – Danielle Ables was determined to attend college after earning her GED certificate from Fayette Literacy. The 20-year-old Somerville resident found the educational opportunity she needed close to home at the University of Tennessee at Martin Somerville Center. Ables joined fellow students Courtney Burns and Elizabeth Wilburn and other officials for a ground-breaking ceremony Dec. 7 that marked the beginning of major renovations to the center’s new home at the former Methodist Fayette Hospital. The new facility is expected to open in fall 2017.

Ables works part-time at night for FedEx and is a full-time student as she pursues academic interests in both agriculture and business. Earning a college degree without the expense of leaving home is within reach, thanks to the center. “It’s just amazing how we can actually go to school and get a better education here in our hometown,” she said. “It means a lot.”

She also sees the center’s future location benefitting both students and the area. “I think it’s going to bring more people to Somerville, hopefully more students,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s going to bring the community together, just the building itself, because everybody has come together to work so hard on it.”

Discussions about a possible Fayette County higher education center began in 2004. The University of Tennessee and UT Martin became involved in 2012 when a new building for the center was initially proposed, but the project was cost-prohibitive. Methodist Fayette Hospital then closed in March 2015, and Fayette County officials suggested Methodist Healthcare give the facility to the town. The facility was transferred to the town in July 2015, and Methodist Healthcare gave the city $250,000 to assist with the facility’s renovation. On July 25, the State Building Commission approved a lease between the University of Tennessee and the city of Somerville to house the UT Martin Somerville Center in the former hospital building.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee General Assembly approved $250,000 in recurring funding for the center in the state’s 2016-17 budget. Also approved was $875,000 in one-time funding to support the hospital’s renovation. Gov. Bill Haslam visited Somerville on July 26 to formally present UT Martin with the total $1.125 million in funding from the state to establish the new center.

Attendees were greeted Dec. 7 by overcast, cold and windy conditions as they arrived at the ground-breaking event held at the facility’s main entrance. Construction workers were already on site, and renovation work was imminent. “Two steps forward, one step back – I think we finally made the final leap here,” said Bob Turner, Somerville city administrator, as he opened the event.

Skip Taylor, Fayette County mayor, said the project took many turns through the years, and he credited retired UT Extension agent and former state Rep. Jamie Jenkins, state Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-District 26) and others for giving the project direction. “We tried a bunch of different ways (to create the center), and everybody here today, and a lot folks who aren’t here today … my thanks go out to them, because there’s no way any of us could have done this by ourselves,” he told the audience.

Gresham followed Taylor on the program and acknowledged the work that made the center a reality for Somerville, Fayette County and the region. “I am so happy that this will begin today. And, as I had said before, this is truly a game-changing event,” she said. “It’s a game-changer for each of us who are here personally, and it’s a game-changer for the students who will attend school here. Thank you, Jesus, for this great day.”

Newly elected Somerville Mayor Ronnie Neill added his thanks to the Somerville board of alderman, the higher education committee, the county commission, city mayors and others who supported the center. “This center will be much more than a place to obtain college credit. It will be a place that will change people’s lives. It will be a local opportunity to improve yourself for the workforce,” Neill said. “We will be supporting the mega-site just 13 miles north of here, and we’ll be supporting the governor’s Drive to 55. So all of those things will occur on this site.”

UT Martin Interim Chancellor Bob Smith helped create the University of Tennessee’s first higher education center in McNairy County, which opened in 1998. He sees UT Martin’s fifth off-campus center well positioned to succeed. “I think you’re going to look back five years from now, 10 years for sure, and say, ‘My word, what have we accomplished here?’ because it will be extraordinary,” he said. “The best days are ahead for this center,” Smith added on behalf of incoming UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver. Smith’s interim chancellor’s appointment will end in early January, and Carver will begin his role as the university’s 10th chancellor Jan. 3.

Ronnie Neill once again took the podium to announce that the building’s future community room will be named the Chickasaw Electric Community Room in honor of a recent donation by the Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. He also presented a plaque of appreciation to Smith from the town of Somerville and the citizens of Fayette County for his support of the center.

Kara Tapp, center director, closed the event by thanking both the Oakland and Fayette County chambers for their support. She also recognized the three center students who helped with the event. “I’m proud of them, and they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go off to college, because they might not have had the means to go,” she said. “And this gives them the opportunity to drive 10, 15 minutes from their home and come here.”

Danielle Ables already has career options in mind after she earns her degree. In the meantime, she is taking advantage of educational opportunities at the Somerville Center that will benefit future generations. “It’s great what everybody’s doing, coming together as a community to better everything,” she said. “It’s just really amazing.”

Learn more about the UT Martin Somerville Center at utm.edu/departments/somerville/ or call the center at 901-465-7313.

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MARTIN, Tenn. – BREAKING GROUND – A ground-breaking ceremony Dec. 7 at the former Methodist Fayette Hospital in Somerville signaled the start of renovations that will create a new home for the University of Tennessee at Martin Somerville Center. The Tennessee General Assembly approved $250,000 in recurring funding for the center in the state’s 2016-17 budget. Also approved was $875,000 in one-time funding to support the hospital facility’s renovation. The building is expected to open in fall 2017. Participating in the ceremony were (l to r) Marlin Mosby, higher education committee member and donor; Bob Turner, administrator for the town of Somerville; Kara Tapp, UT Martin Somerville Center director; Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin interim chancellor; Dr. Brian Donavant, interim executive director, UT Martin Office of Educational Outreach; Skip Taylor, Fayette County mayor; Ronnie Neill, Somerville mayor; Ellen Wadley, architect, Fleming Architects; state Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-District 26); and Charley Deal, UT Martin associate vice chancellor for alumni relations and annual giving.




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