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Despite delays, Macon SCC campus almost ready

Southwestern Community College officials anticipate holding classes this fall at a new satellite campus in Macon County, more than a half-year later than originally planned.


Construction problems delayed the community college from taking over the 27,500-square-foot building as originally planned in September 2006.

The building is the first of five SCC hopes to build on the 50-acre site just outside of Franklin on Siler Road next to the county’s new public library. Macon students represent about 30 percent of the community college’s student base.

“We’re well positioned in Macon County,” said SCC President Cecil Groves, who predicted that in 15 years the Macon campus might have more students than at the community college’s current home in Jackson County.

The State Demographer’s Office projects Macon’s population will increase 17 percent by 2015 and 25.9 percent by 2020. By comparison, Jackson County is expected to grow 9.6 percent between 2010-2020 and Swain County 7.4 percent.

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Despite those slower growth projections, SCC continues to expand class offerings across its service area, and plans to build a new library at its Jackson County location.


Moving forward

For now, however, the emphasis is on getting moved into the building in Macon County.

“In my career, I’ve never had this many problems in this one project as I’ve had in all our other projects,” said SCC Project Manager George Stanley, a 36-year employee of SCC.

Stanley cited three primary delays:

• The internal steel skeleton was out of alignment at the beginning of the project.

• Brickwork by a subcontractor that was done incorrectly had to be redone.

• Subcontracted rockwork also had to be redone.

Despite those difficulties, Stanley said the project is within its $6 million budget. Money for the 27,500-square-foot building came from a combination of $3 million in state bond money and a $3 million match from Macon County.

Stanley and other SCC officials expressed optimism that the building will be completed this week. It must be inspected, and the contractor will get a punch list of finishing touches. SCC is slated to take possession in June.

Architect Mike Watson said the difficulties were primarily the fault of subcontractors.

“Overall, the general contractor has tried to meet his obligations and never wavered or backed off the job,” Watson said.

The state could assess a $500 a day penalty that would ultimately be passed on to the contractor, Stanley said. That assessment will take place at the end of the project.

The project manager that oversees the SCC site in Macon for the general contractor, Perry Bartsch Jr. Construction Co. of Asheville, did not return a phone call seeking comment.


What $6 million buys

SCC’s newest building is visually striking, making use of organic materials such as timbers and rock that are accentuated by industrial touches, including steel cables. The color scheme in the interior is muted.

“It is very flexible and user-friendly,” Watson said.

The building has a raised floor that contains all the cabling, and the access points are constructed so that the college can easily shift its electronics about. The building is on the college’s fiber-optic network.

Many of the walls also can be moved to match changing classroom and office needs. The college’s maintenance crew can handle the procedure, which basically involves unplugging the walls from the floor and ceiling, Watson said.

“One of the things we really tried to achieve in this building is versatility,” said Connie Haire, SCC vice president of the Macon Campus and Institutional Development.

In concrete terms, here’s what $6 million in tax dollars bought:

• Five general classrooms.

• Three computer classrooms/laboratories.

• One science classroom/laboratory.

• A learning assistance center with tutoring rooms.

• Offices for administration, faculty and staff.

• A meeting/conference room.

• Student lounge/vending area.

• Receptionist area.

• Technology/technical services room.


Already full

“This building is absolutely full starting in fall,” Haire said. “We are already seeing the need for expansion.”

For 2006-2007, SCC’s full-time equivalent student numbers in Macon are estimated at 217, growing to 350 by 2007-2008. Hitting 300 is a magic number because then the college is eligible for additional state funding for Macon. The money would be for expenses, not buildings.

The college is pinning hopes for future expansion on a possible Macon County school bond issue, which tentatively includes money for the public schools, SCC, and recreation, Haire said.

Macon students are already able to take classes in their home county. SCC is using space at the Macon County administration building’s annex, which it will keep using. Curriculum offerings include courses in criminal justice, early childhood education, Web technology and a pre-health science track.

When the new building is open it will include cashier services, a bookstore and more.

“It’s going to be a one-stop shop for students,” said Fairley Pollock, student services coordinator for the Macon campus.

The new building also will house the Macon Early College, an accelerated educational program that allows high school students to receive two years of college credits or an associate degree.

Early College Principal Gary Brown said he currently has 44 students taking classes at the old Cartoogechaye Elementary School. That number is projected to grow to 81 in 2007-2008.


SCC expanding elsewhere

Even as SCC officials prepare to move into the new Macon satellite campus, plans are afoot for the other counties, particularly Jackson.

Groves said an architect for the college’s new library in Jackson County would be selected in July. The college hopes to start construction in 2008.

The library will be on the first floor of a 45,000-square-foot building. On the second floor will be classrooms and labs, and the building will also house food services and a bookstore.

It is being built on just more than seven acres of land abutting N.C. 116 that the college acquired from the N.C. Forest Service.

Elsewhere in its service area, SCC opened a new center in Cashiers in 2005 that has a computer lab, personal-development facilities, classrooms and a crafts lab.

And in Swain County, SCC uses the former Almond school to house the Heritage Arts Institute started last year, which teaches not only crafts but also business skills. SCC is also partnering with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Western Carolina University in offering an Associate in Fine Arts program through the new Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts.

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