New Knoxville College president talks restoration with board

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The new president of Knoxville College believes his business experience will help in the rebuilding of the struggling historically black institution.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports ( that Jacob Savage, president and CEO of Biotech Research Laboratories, an environmental firm, recently met with the newspaper's editorial board to discuss his plan to dig the college out of its financial hole.

"What this college needs ... is somebody who is an entrepreneur," Savage told the editorial board, referring to himself. "Because what this college needs is a rebuilding from the ground up. We all know that."

Savage, who became the college's president in October, is also a biology professor at Alabama A&M University. He still works at the Huntsville, Ala., school full time and travels to Knoxville when he can.

Knoxville College's finances are so dire that the school cannot pay Savage.

"He is not going to take his salary until he can raise the money to pay the salary," said Frank Robinson, a trustee and chair of the college's finance committee, who also spoke to the editorial board. "That was part of the deal. KC can't pay him."

The college has not paid its primary creditor in at least six or seven months, Robinson said. Financial Capital Resources in Springfield, Mo., holds the school's $4.5 million loan, which it took out in 2003 using its Mechanicsville campus as collateral, he said. Calls to the lender this week were not returned.

"They've been very, very supportive of Knoxville College, because, as you know, this loan has been outstanding for 10 years or more," Robinson said. "They want to see Knoxville College become an asset to this community, and they don't want to get in a position to cause any more negative impact on the community."

The school also owes the federal government $425,776 for an intervention to clean up thousands of hazardous chemicals posing a public safety risk in the campus's vacant science building.

Environmental Protection Agency officials said in October that they had not decided whether to file a lien against the school's property if the college cannot pay what is owed.

The college already has a $466,427 federal tax lien on the 39-acre property that was filed in August 2008, according to the Knox County Register of Deeds Office.

Savage is inheriting a school not only mired in debt, but also grappling with more than a dozen shuttered buildings and a school enrollment of about 20 students. Most are international students, largely coming from the Bahamas and Belize, he said.

Those students are no longer living on campus after the city last year shut down the only operating dormitory for having exposed asbestos, no heat, and malfunctioning fire and sprinkler systems.

Savage, however, said he wants to restore the college by emphasizing online education, shoring up campus buildings and restoring its accreditation.

The school lost its accreditation in 1997, making its students ineligible to receive federal financial aid. That, in turn, hampers the school's ability to recruit students.

The college has since applied to the American Council for Independent Colleges and Schools for accreditation, and has received feedback on areas to improve, the Rev. James Reese, chair of the college's board of trustees, said last month.

The campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which Savage said he hopes will help with funding the restoration. He is also planning a fundraising campaign that includes reaching out to alumni and philanthropists.


Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel,

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