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MTSU urges city to back aero campus

Economic boost touted by university’s leaders

By DAVID MELSON ~ dmelson@t-g.com
Posted 12/20/22

Middle Tennessee State University leaders had a strong message for Shelbyville City Council members at a workshop last Wednesday.The university plans to bring a “world-class aviation …

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MTSU urges city to back aero campus

Economic boost touted by university’s leaders


Middle Tennessee State University leaders had a strong message for Shelbyville City Council members at a workshop last Wednesday.

The university plans to bring a “world-class aviation campus” to Shelbyville Municipal Airport, president Dr. Sidney A. McPhee said. “I don’t blow smoke. If I say we’re going to do something, we’re going to get it done.”

“We’ll be the biggest economic thing that has ever happened to this city,” Stephen B. Smith, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, said.

Decision makers

Newly-elected council member Bobby Turnbow had a strong message for McPhee and other aerospace campus supporters.

“The six people here are the ones who will make it happen,” he said, referring to the council members who will ultimately decide the university’s use of the airport.

McPhee had been asked by Turnbow when the university would know specific details about its needs concerning proposed use of and development near the airport. He responded by saying city staff members are reviewing MTSU’s requests, which will be brought before Shelbyville Airport Authority at its January meeting.

Turnbow has expressed concern that groups and individuals dealing with city issues are talking first with advisory boards and full-time staff members in various departments rather than the council.

“You said ‘staff.’ Who is ‘staff’?” Turnbow said at a council study session last week in response to an engineer who had mentioned discussing drainage issues with a fulltime City of Shelbyville department head.

Making a point

McPhee brought several of MTSU’s big guns with him to the session, held solely for the council to be presented details of the proposed campus. They included Smith, a businessman and well-known Tennessee Walking Horse enthusiast, who said he has owned a home in Shelbyville for 40 years.

“This is one of the most exciting opportunities in my 22 years at MTSU,” McPhee said, describing the campus as a “win-win” for the university, city and Bedford County.

MTSU’s aerospace department is one of its oldest, established in 1942 and operating from Murfreesboro’s airport since 1952, said Dr. Gregory Van Patten, interim dean of basic and applied sciences at MTSU.

The program has run out of space at that facility, which was once surrounded by open space but is now “landlocked” by the sprawling, growing city, Van Patten said. Nearby residents have complained about noise for several years.

More than 1,200 students are enrolled in the program, Van Patten said.

MTSU officials studied nearby areas and found Shelbyville Municipal Airport has open space, room to grow, and unusually-long runways for a city its size, local officials were told at previous meetings.

In contrast, MTSU is adding 10 more aircraft to its fleet and has no room to house them at their current location. “The Shelbyville airport is three times the size of Murfreesboro’s,” Van Patten said.

The proposal

The university is proposing construction of three buildings, and a “significant footprint” is a must, Van Patten said.

They hope to lease a portion of the airport’s property and move a portion of the aerospace campus to the airport area initially.

Eventual plans are to purchase property to construct buildings containing 92,000 square feet of classroom space alongside nearby Highway 231, along with more tie-down space for aircraft, and move the entire aerospace operations, the council was told. Part of that area would be retained by the city for future airport use.

Van Patten said MTSU would like to use the former Carrick property adjacent to the airport, recently purchased by the city.

The city is considering developing a second runway, Van Patten said. Long-term plans involve MTSU turning some of its initial property back over to the city and moving next to the new runway if built, and construction of a control tower.

“When I come here, I feel like I’m coming home,” Smith said.

The project is a $67 million investment, and “we intend to lease-purchase,” Smith said. “We’ll pay it back.

“We have a chance to be No. 1 in the world in flight training and aeronautics. And with this, we can be,” Smith said.

Additional benefits of what the university termed a “partnership” with the city include possibilities of housing students near the airport and bringing other classes to the new Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus to be built nearby on Highway 231 North.

How much noise?

Council member Marilyn Ewing asked how potential complaints about noise would be handled.

“What do you ask a community such as Shelbyville and Bedford County to prepare for this, and for the negativity that comes with this,” Ewing said.

“We’ve actually had the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in and done an analysis,” McPhee said. “We’ll always be listening to them and what they say. We would love, as soon as we get the green light, we will come to any community meeting” (to discuss MTSU’s view of issues).

McPhee complained of what he termed “people from California” who moved near MTSU’s existing flight operations then complained of noise, saying they should have known what to expect.

MTSU has options on 50 more acres east of the airport and is working with Shelbyville realtor Harold Segroves with intentions of preventing encroachment on nearby private property, State Rep. Pat Marsh said.

Van Patten told the council since the aircraft would be based in Shelbyville, takeoff and landing times could be set for times least disruptive to nearby residents.

“When you hear those planes, think dollar signs and jobs,” Smith said.

Informing everyone

Mayor Randy Carroll dismissed the meeting with thanks for MTSU’s representatives – and a reminder.

“The city council will make the decision,” Carroll said. “We think it’s a great opportunity, looking at it...We want to work with Ginger (Shofner, city attorney) and Scott Collins, our city manager, and Lisa Smith, our city recorder. Everyone needs to be up on it and all of us need to be informed so that we can make this decision and make it as quickly as possible.

“We appreciate the Airport Authority and the job they’re going to do to make the decisions they have to make and then pass it on to the city council.”