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Knoxville, TVA partner for Connected Communities at senior, rec centers

Connected Communities

A TVA initiative is helping the city of Knoxville’s Parks & Recreation Department apply data and innovative technologies at recreation centers and senior centers. 

The “Community Connections: Tech Updates at City of Knoxville Recreation Centers” project was selected for funding through TVA’s Connected Communities initiative, which uses community-driven information and the newest technology solutions to address challenges that include broadband access, environmental risk monitoring, digital literacy training and next-generation career options.  

TVA is working with communities on pilot projects they value. The federal utility is funding more than $3 million in grant funding. 

In Knoxville, a $70,000 grant, with a $30,000 local match, will fund the purchase of tablets, computers, smart TVs and projectors to improve programming and individual services available at all 10 City recreation centers, the Larry Cox Senior Center, the South Knoxville Community Center and the Knoxville Adaptive Recreation Center and pool. 

 “We are thankful for the opportunity to connect with the community in a new way,” Parks & Recreation Deputy Director Aaron Browning said. “From integrating in our current programs, to developing new tech programs and offerings, to partnering with local organizations, Knoxvillians of all ages will greatly benefit.” 

Browning remembers years back, when rec centers lacked Wi-Fi. There were no public computers or large TVs to accommodate after-school programs, or to link multiple locations with live instruction. 

“We’d get ‘can we’ questions related to meetings or programs, and we used to have to answer ‘no’ a lot,” he said. “This grant will allow us to purchase technological additions that will work hand-in-hand with the public Wi-Fi, computers and printers that we’ve installed in recent months.” 

Browning sees transportable laptops creating versatility as classes and workshops are added. 

“Think adult computer literacy classes and how-to classes that could be led by City staff or by community partners,” he said. 

With tablets, staff can connect to a kiosk to aid in demonstrations during a fitness class, for example. And the projectors and TVs can open up new possibilities for after-school programs, community meetings, group outings and more. 

“More than half of Knox County households lack broadband access, so we’ll be able to better serve someone without home Internet service who’s looking for a job, or doing school work,” Browning said. “We’ll also be able to provide better, more interactive community meeting spaces.” 

Broadband access is characterized as a “super-determinant” of health, Browning noted, as it affects numerous other social determinants of health, such as education, employment and healthcare access. 

“We’re thankful to TVA and excited to be able to offer more classes and better services to help people improve their knowledge and skills,” he said. 

Work on the TVA-funded Connected Communities projects is expected to begin this summer. Knoxville’s proposal to boost technology at its recreation centers was selected from more than 40 organizations that applied for funding during the initial call for pilots in late 2021. 

Each selected project supports at least one of three focus areas of the TVA Connected Communities initiative: 

  • Equitable access to services: Services through broadband, modern technology and the knowledge and empowerment to use it. 
  • Economic empowerment:Economic security and the ability to contribute to a modern 21st Century economy. 
  • Energy and environmental justice: A healthy environment and reliable, affordable and clean energy. 

 The TVA Connected Communities initiative is one of the concepts that’s a part of the Energy System of the Future planning to help achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 

In February, the TVA Board of Directors approved exploration of advanced nuclear technology as part of its development of innovative, cost-effective technologies to support its aspirational goal of a net-zero carbon energy future. Other technologies TVA is exploring include next-generation energy storage, carbon capture, new hydroelectric pumped storage and hydrogen. TVA continues to expand its renewable energy portfolio, including the targeted addition of up to 10,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2035. 

Dr. Joe Hoagland, Vice President, TVA Innovation & Research, said production of low- and no-emission power is an important, but not the only, part of the energy equation for TVA’s seven-state service region.  

“It is essential for local communities to be positioned to take full advantage of TVA’s Energy System of the Future,” he said. “During the past year, the Connected Communities team and community partners have been working to understand Valley challenges, align best practices and build a roadmap to tomorrow.” 

To learn more about TVA’s Connected Communities initiative, including resources and tools for communities to implement their own Connected Communities initiatives, visit or email