Legislator’s relative, others lose jobs in shutdown of Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn

Fewer than half the state employees who lost their jobs when the Fall Creek Falls State Park’s Inn and Conference Center was closed — months before its scheduled demolition to make way for building a new $30 million facility  – got new state jobs and some of those who did are paid less and face a much longer drive, reports Sam Stockard. Some are blaming state officials for poor planning.

Republican state Rep. Paul Sherrell of Sparta is finding his family on the wrong side of the equation, too. His wife’s sister, Julie Harrell, a mother of one who worked in the kitchen at Fall Creek Falls, can’t find a state job after working there for a number of years.

Sherrell… says he spoke about the situation with Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of parks in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Hill told him he would try to find a place for her to work, but it hasn’t happened, Sherrell adds.

“I would have liked to have seen them build an inn somewhere else on the property, kept that one open until they got the other one built, then tear that one down. But they had it in their mind to tear it down. So, what else can you do?” Sherrell asks.

He also wishes the state had put more thought into the future of employees, in addition to the revenue the state of Tennessee will lose while the inn is closed.

But the state plowed ahead with demolition and replacement despite an outcry from area residents and workers.

Construction on the new inn, a $30 million project, is scheduled to start either this fall or winter 2019 with completion slated for summer 2020. Bell Construction is doing the work, and Earl Swensson & Associates is handling design and development.

The state has said it is investing $43 million in Fall Creek Falls facilities, including work on cabins, the swimming pool, visitor center, village green, golf course and sewer lines. Overnight use of cabins, campsites and backcountry camping is still available, the state points out.

“Every impacted employee has been offered job placement assistance within another state park or division at TDEC, or elsewhere within state government, and many have accepted placements,” says TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski.

There’s a big difference, though, between receiving an offer and a paycheck with benefits.

Randy Stamps, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, says the latest report shows 20 of the Fall Creek Falls employees found other state jobs, 23 were separated or terminated, meaning they took the severance, and four retired. He also adds more people were affected because the park had numerous 10-month employees.

Further describing the state of affairs, one person had to move to Chattanooga for a state job, another who’d been a hospitality manager became a conservation worker and took a 43 percent pay cut and yet another person who worked in food service is driving 50 miles each way to keep a state job, Stamps says.

“We’re glad they placed 20 people, but I never understood why they were so passionate about closing those inns,” Stamps adds.

He uses the plural form of the word because the state is getting ready to do the same thing at Paris Landing State Park, where it ran into a firestorm of opposition from employees and residents during a recent public hearing there, the Paris Post-Intelligencer reports.

The state is planning a $26 million project to replace the old inn with a new building with half the rooms, despite the wishes of people who would rather see a renovation that would cost roughly half the price and enable the inn to remain open.

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