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Wednesday, 20 January 2016 15:48

Community colleges also stand to benefit from bond passage

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moneyThough community college leaders aren’t allowed to take an official position on whether they support the $2 billion Connect NC Bond initiative, the proposal could mean $350 million for community colleges across the state.

If the bond receives majority support on the March 15 primary ballot, Southwestern Community College would receive more than $7.1 million while Haywood Community College would receive more than $2.8 million for infrastructure projects. 

Dr. Don Tomas, president of SCC, said the bond could be a tremendous help to SCC if it passes. 

“We are currently finalizing a master plan for our Jackson Campus and Swain Center, and we recently completed a master plan for our Macon Campus,” he said. “Potential funding from the bond would certainly be a great starting point for raising the capital we need to get started on some of the top priorities from each of these master plans.”

SCC has been holding public input sessions in the region to get a sense of what people in the community expect from the college in the future.  While the flagship campus is in Jackson County, SCC is looking to expand its campuses in Macon and Swain counties. 

The plan to expand Macon’s campus from 4 acres to 20 acres includes a 38,000-square-foot science building with 15 classrooms and a lab and a new law enforcement training center with an indoor firing range.

The Swain Center only offers a limited number of programs, including Outdoor Leadership and Heritage Arts, but residents would like to see more general education classes offered so students don’t have to travel as much to Jackson County. 

“We’re still in the process of determining our top priorities on these master plans, but all of the projects we’re considering now are vital to accommodating the projected growth of our college over the next 10 to 15 years,” Tomas said. 

Community colleges don’t receive any funding for capital improvements from the state coffers unless a special bond is passed. Tomas said the community colleges have to rely on financial support from the county governments it serves. As counties have been strapped for funding as well since the recession, it is unlikely SCC would get the necessary funding more than or equal to the $7 million it could receive from this bond. However, if the bond doesn’t pass, Tomas said he would continue to work with community partners to ensure SCC’s most critical needs are met. 

“We are fortunate to have extremely supportive community leaders throughout our service area of Jackson, Macon, Swain counties and the Qualla Boundary, and we hope they will work with us on future projects as they’ve done throughout our first 50-plus years,” he said. 

Haywood Community College leadership is also being cautious about not promoting the bond, but instead educating the public on the benefits. HCC President Dr. Barbara Parker said the $2.8 million slated for HCC would allow the school to complete some much-needed renovations to existing classrooms and instructional lab space. 

“For the last few months, the Department of Campus Development at Haywood Community College has been working to determine essential updates to various buildings across campus, Parker said. “As a result, HCC, in coordination with the board of trustees, is recommending that funds acquired by the Connect NC Bond be utilized toward the renovation of existing structures and will not be allocated for new construction.”

HCC recently completed one major capital project — the Creative Arts Building — and broke ground on another — the Public Services Training Facility — using a combination of a quarter cent sales tax and loan funds. The county commissioners designated the quarter cent sales tax to HCC in 2008 for the completion of capital projects. 

Over time, Parker said the quarter cent sales tax would be used to pay off the debt incurred by the Creative Arts Building and Public Services Training Facility. As a result, HCC is not likely to commit to new projects or major campus renovations for the next few years.

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