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Next steps uncertain for Cumberland after council decision

Xavier Smith • Apr 18, 2018 at 2:41 PM

Cumberland University president Paul Stumb said the next steps for the university are uncertain following the Lebanon City Council’s decision Tuesday to not donate $850,000 for the university’s housing project.

Stumb said Wednesday he received dozens of messages and calls following the meeting from people who expressed disappointment in the council’s decision and called their reluctance short-sighted.

“We’ve got to figure out some other means to deal with our growth,” Stumb said. “I just don’t know what that is right now.”

Stumb said property owner Drew Boggs indicated he would renovate properties and potentially build duplexes on the properties after he has secured land for Cumberland Corner for several years.

Stumb said one suggestion that was raised is a possible satellite campus in Williamson County.

“We may have to look in other counties and areas since we couldn’t get the support of our own council and community,” Stumb said.

Stumb said the university has 584 available beds on campus and estimate more than 2,500 students will attend the school in the fall. He said the university has acquired several houses near campus for housing, but it’s not the best situation for students.

In 2014, the former Kenneth M. Tramel Baptist Student Center caught on fire after lightning struck the building, which housed two Cumberland University students at the time.

The pair was able to escape the fire, but all of their belongings were destroyed in the fire.

“That’s not an ideal long-term solution. We ideally don’t want our students staying in small houses off campus,” he said.

Stumb said the university’s enrollment has outpaced the school’s ability to provide adequate housing on campus.

“The university, as well as Lebanon, will continue to grow at a rapid pace. We hoped this joint venture would help both parties,” Stumb said. “We’re going to continue to grow and look at other options to fulfill those needs.”

Nearly 30 speakers addressed the council Tuesday night both in support and opposition of the $850,000 donation, which the council approved on a 5-0 vote with one abstention two weeks ago.

The group initially agreed to donate $850,000 to the university for a development that would feature about 70 student housing units and retail space, dubbed Cumberland Corner.

The council originally intended to buy and donate nine pieces of property on South Greenwood Avenue, between Leeville Pike and Martin Avenue, to Cumberland University. However, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the Municipal Technical Advisory Service opined the move was not legal.

Following that, Councilor Rob Cesternino sponsored the resolution to donate $850,000 to Cumberland University to buy the properties. If Cumberland had failed to finish construction of Cumberland Corner, estimated to cost $15 million-$20 million, within 48 months of the donation, it would have been required to return the donation to the city.

In a roll call vote, Councilor Tick Bryan joined Cesternino in support of the donation, while councilors Joey Carmack and Chris Crowell flipped from their original “yes” votes to oppose the measure. Councilor Rick Bell abstained his vote because of his position as a history professor at Cumberland, and Councilor Fred Burton was absent from the meeting due to illness.

Of the 28 speakers, 14 were against the donation, while 11 expressed support, and three were indifferent.

“What is good for our institution is equally good for the city,” said Cumberland University baseball head coach Woody Hunt. “When Cumberland is great, the city is great.”

“There’s nothing for the youth to do. When I was at Lebanon High School, there was nothing to do – go to Don Fox Park. That’s it. It’s 2018. We got to do something for the youth,” resident Brad Loftis said.

Other speakers voiced similar concerns, mainly about the project’s benefit to the city, or the belief that taxpayer funds should not go toward the private institution and used on other ventures and issues.

 

 

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