Efforts to bring back Hiwassee College continue and a formal proposal now has been put forth to take over the defunct college’s debt, acquire its facilities and restructure the institution.
After years of struggling to maintain enrollment, the college announced in March it would close its doors and for now, the last class graduated on May 10.
However, the Hiwassee College Alumni Association Inc. (HCAA) has submitted a proposal to purchase the Hiwassee College charter and campus. The proposal, in response to the Request For Proposal made by the Hiwassee board of trustees, offers $9 million as part of an overall purchase request, HCAA said in a press release.
The proposal is not “hard cash,” however.
“It is through the absorption of the debt that Hiwassee College Inc., currently has,” said Blaina Best, HCAA secretary. “We are technically offering them $9 million by allowing them to resign and walk away, with the Hiwassee College Alumni Association Inc. taking over Hiwassee College Inc., in its current state and restructuring the organization.”
The HCAA, formed since the college announced its closing in March, is composed of alumni, former college faculty and staff, and other college supporters. The initial focus has been on gathering information and developing a proposal for possession and continuation of the college. In addition, HCAA has discussed initial plans to revise curriculum, raise money, and revitalize college life and reputation. The guiding theme of this effort is “New Beginnings for an Old Tradition.”
Currently, the HCAA says it would like to eventually see Hiwassee College reopen as a school of allied health sciences, with educational tracks such as dental hygiene, a wide variety of medical professions from administration and billing to radiology and nursing, surgical and ultrasound technology to pharmacy assistant and rehabilitation assistant.
Hiwassee College President Robin Tricoli confirmed the college had received the HCAA’s proposal.
“To date, we have not received a deposit nor earnest money for the purchase,” Tricoli said.
Tricoli did tell The Advocate & Democrat that the Hiwassee College board of trustees is considering “multiple proposals.”
At the end of May, the Rev. Tim Jones, the director of communications for the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church, told the newspaper that the Hiwassee College board of trustees was working in conjunction with the Conference board of trustees.
“I am not sure if there has been a date set for the transfer of the property, but I do know there are some potential buyers at this point,” Jones said. “The two boards are working together to discuss any potential sales.”
With the Holston Conference’s annual conference being held in mid-June, however, discussions were temporarily slowed.
While Hiwassee College is its own entity, owning all of its buildings and property, the bylaws written when the college was established state that if the college were to ever close, once all debt had been taken care of, the property would be given to the Holston Conference.
“The Holston Conference is the lien holder on all of the property, some as a first lien holder and some as the second,” Jones said in April.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency also has a lien on the campus.
Meanwhile, an investigation into the college’s finances, launched in early May by the State Comptroller’s Office at the request of District Attorney General Steve Crump, looms.
“Hiwassee’s understanding at this point is that it is likely that a disgruntled former employee or faculty member has made allegations and/or assumptions regarding Hiwassee’s financial operations which are false and misleading, but which must be thoroughly investigated,” Tricoli said. “We voluntarily met for several hours with Mr. Crump’s team and supplied all financial records and supporting materials which were requested, and we will supply any additional followup materials which they would like to review. We are confident that our operations are all conducted properly, but that does not change the fact that Hiwassee’s closure is a heartbreaking event for our whole community.”
On Tuesday, Crump told the Daily Times’ sister paper The Advocate & Democrat that the investigation is still ongoing.
HCAA President C.B. Howell in May announced that meetings of college alumni and anyone else interested in helping save the school would be held.
“When I went to school there, it was a great place,” Howell told The Advocate & Democrat. “We remember all the great values.”
Howell said current students and alumni were deeply saddened when they learned the school was closing.
“It happened so abruptly,” he said.
Any interested alumni or community members who would like to join the HCAA in trying to save the college are encouraged to attend the meetings on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church of Madisonville.
At 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3, there will be an all-ages Hiwassee reunion, organized by some of the alumni, at Life House Coffee in Powell. For more information on the reunion, visit the Facebook event page: All Ages Hiwassee Reunion/Choir Reunion/Equestrian.
To learn more or participate in Hiwassee College Alumni Association Inc., contact the group by email at hiwasseealumni @gmail.com or by mail at P.O. Box 65, Madisonville, TN 37354. You also can join the Hiwassee College Alumni Association page on Facebook for up-to-date information.