HCC building feud persists unresolved

Haywood Community College leaders have chipped away more than $430,000 worth of features from its proposed creative arts building, but the project’s $10.3 million price tag continues to leave county commissioners cringing.

The Haywood County commissioners gave the college the go-ahead on the project last week, without addressing the most contentious issue: its cost.

County leaders voted 4-1 to submit a loan application to the state Local Government Commission, which must approve all debt incurred by local governments — without specifying exactly how much money would be borrowed, admittedly an odd omission from a loan application.

Meanwhile, HCC leaders had asked the commissioners to commit outright to a $12 million loan, which would cover other construction projects along with the cost of the new creative arts building.

The county board stopped short of a full endorsement, sticking to its assertion the college has not done all it can to cut costs.

Commissioners agreed to proceed with the loan application once HCC receives bids on the project, hoping the cost would come in less than anticipated.

A special quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in a referendum two years ago will fund the project. While the special sales tax is earmarked for construction projects at the college, commissioners say they are obligated to make sure it is spent wisely.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley cast the sole vote against the project, again expressing concerns about the proposed building’s price tag.

“I don’t think I can support the building as it’s designed right now,” said Ensley. “I just think the building they’re trying to build is too expensive.”

The college is attempting to acquire “platinum” level environmental certification for its building, equivalent to the highest level of green building in the country. Ensley says the architects he’s consulted have said platinum buildings cost 20 to 25 percent more than usual.

Ensley has requested correspondence between the college and the state construction office and learned, for instance, the college plans to use rainwater to flush toilets in the building, an endeavor that requires double the plumbing.

HCC Board of Trustees Chairman Mark Bumgarner defended the building’s green features, arguing that the creative arts building is subject to strict state energy requirements.

The energy-hungry pottery kilns, welding equipment and shop tools have made it especially costly to meet state guidelines — forcing the college to install more energy saving features than normal to offset the higher than normal energy use.

Following these requirements happens to coincide with criteria for energy-efficient construction.

“The only thing to reduce would be to eliminate space, and space is the most important part,” said Bumgarner. “We’ve gone through a great deal of due diligence. This is not just something that we said, ‘Let’s be fancy and do more than we need to do.’”

As part of its attempts to lower cost, HCC has replaced exterior and interior stone and wood finishes with less expensive options, reduced the amount of exterior site lighting, removed interior sound proofing finishes in low-noise areas, eliminated exterior seating and tables, and eliminated an interior shower stall, planning to use a classroom safety shower instead.

HCC President Rose Johnson said the cost reductions occurred as a part of routine due diligence during the construction design process.

“We informed county commissioners during meetings that we took that step,” said Johnson. “That step was not a result of their questions.”

Though debates have arisen over construction costs in the last few months, commissioners and HCC leaders all agree that the college needs a new creative arts building.

“The college is pleased that the county commissioners took action on is intent to start the process of securing a loan,” said Johnson.

Bumgarner pointed out that HCC’s creative arts program is a keystone that sets the college apart from other community colleges not only in North Carolina, but the entire country.

According to Bumgarner, the county manager and finance director anticipate revenues from the quarter-cent sales tax to bring in about $1.5 million each year, which in Bumgarner’s view is sufficient to apply for a $12 million loan.

“That’s the level that exists with the current recession,” said Bumgarner.

Commissioner Mark Swanger said he would rather see the special sales tax money stretched further rather than every penny being committed to loan payments.

“Why borrow money if you got that money sitting there?” said Swanger, adding that the county commissioners will have the ultimate responsibility for the loan. “If sales tax money coming in is insufficient to pay debt service, the county would be responsible for using property tax money. I take that seriously.”

Haywood schools, HCC struggle to meet needs as revenues plummet

With Haywood County’s revenues down by 4 percent, schools are looking at another year of disappointing budget allocations at the local level.

Preliminary budget figures show the Haywood County public school system might receive $335,000 in capital outlay funding from the county — a far cry from the $735,000 it requested.

Capital outlay includes any costs related to buildings on school property, from replacing roofs to regular maintenance to new construction.

Meanwhile, Haywood Community College might get $165,000 for capital outlay needs despite its request for $500,000.

To make matters worse, both figures are part of a budget that is short by more than $738,000.

“With revenues as flat as they are this year, we may even have to cut that some more,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

But HCC President Rose Johnson stressed that the college’s capital needs are even higher than the $500,000 it requested this year.

“We are serving a student population of 11,000,” said Johnson. “The stress of doing that in facilities that need major renovations and repair is becoming very strong.”

For example, the college must completely redo its heating and air conditioning system in Building 300, where general education and natural resources classes take place.

Replacing the heat pumps alone would cost $270,000, with the total for the project nearing $560,000, according to HCC.

Recently, the air conditioning went out in the cosmetology building at HCC, which alone will take $17,000 out of HCC’s budget.

Some county commissioners had suggested dipping into the quarter-cent sales tax funds HCC receives to cover maintenance needs for the time being.

Johnson and the board of trustees vehemently oppose the idea, stating that money from the quarter-cent sales tax was passed solely to fund new construction at HCC — and that’s exactly what it will be used for.

Johnson said with a growing population of students, that money should be used to build a creative arts building that meets the needs of today as well as the future.

“If we began to defer funding from that fund, then we are really sliding behind meeting the needs for the campus,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley said all organizations should understand that the commissioners’ hands are tied.

“This year, we’re just trying to hang on,” said Ensley. “What they receive will reflect what the economy is giving us right now.”

Ensley says a tax increase to bring in more revenues is absolutely out of the question, considering how much citizens are still suffering under the recession. “Having to do with less, we can’t ask for more,” he said.

Commissioner Mark Swanger agreed, stating that he is “confident” that there will not be a tax increase this year. He praised department heads, along with Finance Officer Julie Davis and Assistant County Manager Marty Stamey, for cooperating under a tight budget.

Though public schools receive money from both the county and the state, HCC meets all of its capital needs from county funding alone. Drastic cuts in the county budget means the college is helpless in completing necessary maintenance.

Donna Forga, vice-chair of HCC’s Board of Trustees, said she like many others feels let down with what the county has pledged.

“We recognize the financial situation that the county’s in, that every organization is in right now, these are times that we’ve not seen financially,” said Forga. “While we understand that, we’re disappointed in that.”

A depleting reserve

Haywood County public schools have grown accustomed to seeing money flow in steadily from both the county and the state, but they’ve had to make a tough adjustment since the economic downturn.

Before the recession, Haywood’s school system annually received $600,000 from the county to support its capital needs. In addition, the board chipped in another $135,000 annually to meet its 25 percent match requirement for state per capita funds.

From the state, the school system drew in $500,000 each year in lottery funds, and $500,000 more in per capita funds, which are based on how many students attend Haywood’s schools.

Public school leaders have saved up this money from multiple sources for quite some time, but since county commissioners slashed their budget, they’ve had to dip into the pot.

“If it wasn’t for the lottery and the [state per capita money], we wouldn’t be able to do quite as much as we can do now,” said Tracy Hargrove, maintenance director for Haywood County Schools.

Despite the recession, commissioners have managed to come through with the 25 percent local match for state per capita funds, as required by law.

The county board recently approved allocating $106,500 to replace a flat roof at North Canton Elementary and begin an HVAC and electrical upgrade at Central Haywood High School.

Even though the school system now holds $1.16 million in lottery funds, it has devoted all but $286,000 of that money for two turf projects, according to Finance Officer Larry Smith.

Money is slowly but surely running out.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte said the county has received no state per capita funding this year, and they will likely receive none next year as well.

“There’s just not a lot we can plan for,” said Nolte.

Hargrove said the schools will just have to prioritize with the money it is getting.

“It’s like anything else, you can always use more money,” said Hargrove. “Is there anything that’s live or die that’s being pushed out? No. We can survive.”

HCC comes out on top in Recycle Mania

Haywood Community College shot to the top in a nationwide recycling competition by doing little more than what it already does to promote sustainability.

More than 600 colleges signed up for RecycleMania across the country, recycling and composting more than 84 million pounds of material in just 10 weeks.

In HCC’s first year entering, it ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 19 in the country in its category of Waste Minimization, in which schools compete to see which produces the least amount of municipal solid waste (both recyclables and trash) per person.

By the end of the 10 weeks, HCC weighed in with about 19 pounds of trash per person. In comparison, Ursinus College, which ranked last in the category at No. 199, had a cumulative result of 200 pounds of trash per person.

In the first week, HCC sent more than 1,900 pounds of paper, cardboard, aluminum and plastic to the recycling center, as well as 3,500 pounds of scrap metal.

More than 500 pounds of wood were salvaged from the campus to be reused and over 100 pounds of food waste from the café were added to HCC’s compost pile.

Alan Morrow, HCC Campus Arboretum Team Leader, who led the effort, said the college did not have to start from scratch to succeed in the competition. It already had a compost pile, and students and staff have been trained to use recycling bins, located in every classroom and building.

“Participating in RecycleMania is just another way to highlight what HCC does every day to incorporate sustainability into campus life,” Morrow said.

For more information, visit www.haywood.edu or www.recyclemania.com. Contact Morrow at 828.627.4135.

HCC not taking no as an answer

Haywood Community College remains hopeful that the county will increase funding to the college, despite reluctance by the county commissioners to provide what they see as special treatment to HCC amidst across the board budget cuts.

“I view it as an unresolved issue at this point,” said HCC President Rose Johnson.

During the recession, commissioners slashed capital funding to the college and public school system by two-thirds, cut out nonprofits completely and laid off nearly 40 county employees.

The county had previously promised to pay for two new roofs and a major renovation at HCC with the annual contributions. But now, commissioners plan to dip into a special sales tax fund to pay for the projects.

The special sales tax was approved by voters specifically to fund expansions at HCC — not maintenance, according to college leaders. The college wants the county to restore its annual maintenance budget and reserve every penny of sales tax revenue for new construction and expansion.

Johnson met with county commissioners earlier this month to plead the college’s case and plans to meet with the board again soon.

Community college building costs come under fire

Haywood Community College leaders say county commissioners are unfairly accusing them of overspending on a new $10.2 million complex where arts and crafts will be taught.

Last week, Commissioner Kevin Ensley called it the most expensive building per square foot that he has ever seen in the county.

Now, HCC has dug up research to show that its creative arts building will cost less than similar construction at other community colleges in the state.

Ensley had compared HCC’s cost per square foot to that of recent construction projects in Haywood County, including the new jail, justice center and Bethel Elementary School. But HCC countered that community colleges are subject to stringent new state energy standards that lead to higher expenses. Plus, the craft trades require specialized equipment, from a $15,000 dust collection system for the woodworking shop to a $16,000 pottery wheel.

“I think the main thing is that everyone is talking about the same thing when they’re talking about the cost,” said Debbie Trull, director of administrative services. “It can be complex, and it can be confusing.”

But Commissioner Mark Swanger said Ensley’s comparisons are valid, even though they include different types of buildings.

“Every construction project has special features,” Swanger said. “In a school for example, you have a whole restaurant inside it. The jail, of course, has a complete security system.”

HCC claims that state requirements for energy efficiency could have added as much as 4 percent to the construction cost. The energy-hungry pottery kilns, welding equipment and shop tools made it especially costly to meet state guidelines — forcing the college to install more energy saving features than normal to offset their high energy use.

At a board of trustees meeting last Wednesday, HCC claimed that its new facility would cost $203.97 per square foot. According to HCC’s research, the average total project costs for such buildings are $283 per square foot statewide.

HCC also cited a national study conducted by McGraw-Hill that showed construction at colleges routinely costs 160 percent higher than K-12 schools.

“We need to be comparing apples to apples, instead of apples to oranges,” said HCC President Rose Johnson.

But County Commissioner Kevin Ensley said the college is the one that’s not comparing apples to apples.

“What they are doing is dancing around the numbers,” Ensley said.

To come up with a square foot cost of $203.97, the college omitted architect fees and site preparation and used only the estimated cost of the construction contract. But when taking the total project into consideration, the cost is $245 a square foot: $10.2 million for 41,000 square feet.

As for numbers from other colleges, HCC factored in the total project cost, including architect fees and site preparation — creating an unparallel comparison to its own numbers.

When Ensley was doing his comparison of recent construction projects, he used the total project cost — even if that meant factoring in the cost of buying land and putting in a septic system in the case of the new Bethel school.

Ensley said HCC is pushing the envelope on environmentally-friendly features for the new building and that’s what is driving up the costs. The building as planned would likely qualify for the “platinum” level green building designation.

“I think they want a platinum building, and we aren’t in a platinum economy right now,” Ensley said. “Some of these initiatives are extremely expensive.”

But HCC leaders say that isn’t the case, according to pricing they’ve done on the building with and without the green features.

Trull maintains that the college has already tried to be as cost-conscious as possible, but it won’t initiate a total redesign to please commissioners.

“The design is at the point where it would cost money to go back,” said Trull.

But Ensley said it is not hard for a contractor bidding on the project to provide a baseline cost estimate along with a separate breakdown of extras, Ensley said. Ensley wants county staff to review the construction documents and see if there are potential savings.

“I’m going to continue looking at it,” Ensley said.

Ultimately, county commissioners have to approve the college’s loan on the building. It will be paid for with revenue from a special quarter cent sales tax. County voters approved the special tax in 2008 for the express purpose of funding community college expansion.

It brings in enough each year to cover payments on 15-year $12 million loan, which is more than enough to pay for the creative arts building. But the college has a wish-list of other expansion projects it hopes to fund with sales tax money. Commissioners would like to see the money stretched further.

“I don’t want to see $10.2 million eaten up by this one building,” Ensley said.

Swanger and Ensley didn’t say whether they would hold veto the project if costs aren’t brought down, but they aren’t satisfied at this point. Swanger said he will keep an open mind and is eager to hear whatever new information the college plans to present.

“We all want this to work,” Swanger said. “We want the community college to have good, updated, safe facilities. That’s the reason we are looking closely at this. We want the money to go as far as it can to reach that goal.”

 

Building costs

Haywood Community College researched construction costs at five other colleges that spent far more on their buildings, including:

• Alamance Community College, which spent $301 per square foot for its technology center.

• Catawba Valley Community College, which spent $226 per square foot for industrial and technical building.

• Wilson Community College, which spent $320 per square foot on a heath & technology building.

Recurring money problems pit HCC, county against each other

Haywood Community College leaders are at odds with county commissioners over funding for the college.

The county slashed capital contributions to the community college by two-thirds due to the recession. The college counted on the annual funding for repairs and renovations and is now hamstrung by the loss.

Unable to produce what was promised during better times, the county commissioners have pitched another solution: dipping into a special pot of money earmarked for expansion projects.

College leaders don’t like the idea. Dipping into the special pot of money to cover repairs — like new roofs or paving jobs — would sideline some of their expansion plans for new buildings.

College leaders responded with a two-fold appeal to the commissioners. They want their annual maintenance funding restored. And they want the special pot of money to be placed in a lock box to fund new construction only.

The college is entirely dependent on the county for construction dollars, whether it’s filling potholes, patching holes in the roof, replacing carpet or building new facilities. While the state funds community college operations, from salaries to the light bills, it doesn’t pay a dime toward upkeep of buildings or new construction. That is left up to counties.

“They have a responsibility to build the buildings the community college needs,” said Bill Bird, a supporter of Haywood Community College. “They need to find the money to do it.”

But the county claims it is cash-strapped and can’t afford to restore the funding that was cut.

“I am looking for a win-win situation, and it is tough to have a win-win situation when you don’t have money,” Commissioner Bill Upton said.

Bird said that the commissioners seem to find the money “to do they things they want to do,” however.

 

Recession hamstrings county

When the recession hit, commissioners slashed the county’s budget by $7 million. No branch of county government was spared. As a last resort, commissioners even enacted a slight property tax increase to avoid deeper cuts.

The college saw its annual contribution for maintenance and construction drop from $500,000 to $165,000.

“Capital outlay across the board was reduced by two-thirds. No particular entity was singled out,” County Manager David Cotton said.

Nonetheless, it created a backlog of repair needs at the college. The nursing building has no insulation and the siding is deteriorating, for example. That was on the list to repair this year, but got pushed back, said Debbie Trull, executive director of administrative services.

“I understand the commissioners are in a real problem financially with the amount of taxes they collect and the amount of wants,” said Larry Leatherwood, the leader of a group that supports full funding for the college’s needs. But the county can’t simply let the buildings at the college crumble, he said.

“If you don’t take care of what you got, you end up spending more in the long run to fix what you had,” Leatherwood said.

College leaders argued that HCC is an economic driver in the community. Its practical degrees, both for young students and the unemployed trying to re-enter the workforce, are invaluable. HCC even partners directly with industry in the county to provide job-specific training.

Enrollment has increased in recent years, and HCC will serve more than 10,000 students this year.

“That is a number, but behind that number is a lot of pressure on the college and its facilities,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, HCC president.

Even before the cuts, the annual funding wasn’t enough.

“We have a lot of buildings there now and to maintain what you own takes right much money every year,” said Neal Ensley, a member of the college board of trustees.

It certainly wasn’t enough to fund expansions. The master plan calls for a new building for the flagship arts and crafts program, an expansion of its equally renowned natural resources department and a new building for emergency services instruction.

“The money you get for maintenance is not sufficient to build new buildings or to make major additions,” Ensley said.

That’s why the college needed a special pot of money. And the perfect solution just happened to come along. In 2007, the state gave counties the option of enacting a quarter cent sales tax. In Haywood County, it would raise about $1.5 million a year — a nice sum to pay for HCC’s expansion plans.

Typically, counties don’t have the power to enact sales tax, but the state made an exception. It came with a hitch: counties could enact the quarter cent sales tax only if it was put on the ballot and passed a countywide vote. Commissioners decided to take the gamble, pledging to dedicate the sales tax proceeds to HCC if the measure passed.

Supporters of the community college mounted a campaign to convince the public to approve the measure, and it worked. The sales tax passed with 57 percent of the vote in May 2008. Haywood County was one of only a few counties where the voluntary tax passed muster with voters.

“I have to thank the people of Haywood County for passing that. It shows the people of Haywood County think the community college is a real source of help for them,” Neal Ensley said.

The pitch to voters throughout was clear. The sales tax would be set aside for construction and expansion on the campus of Haywood Community College.

“The money we were going to raise with the quarter cent sales tax was new money not to supplant or take the place of or eliminate the maintenance money,” said Larry Leatherwood, the chairman of Neighbors of Haywood Community College, a group that formed in 2008 with the express purpose of lobbying the public to pass the sales tax.

College leaders are upset at the prospect of using the special pot of money for general maintenance.

But Julie Davis, county finance director, sees the situation far more positively. The sales tax money offers the college a lucky break.

“If it weren’t for the sales tax, I don’t know that the county could come up with the money without increasing taxes,” said Julie Davis, county finance officer. “Thank goodness we have the sales tax to give.”

In reality, the county is only proposing that a small sliver of the quarter cent sales tax go toward maintenance: about $800,000 for two major roof repairs. The rest would still be going to new construction projects for now.

College leaders fear the commissioners are setting a precedent, however. Instead of restoring the annual capital outlay to pre-recession levels, the county may stick with the lower contributions and rely on sales tax proceeds to make up the difference.

“If we spend the quarter cent sales tax on anything but new buildings, we won’t get the new buildings we need,” Ensley said.

Commissioner Skeeter Curtis said that’s not what he intended nor what the voters were told.

“I looked at it as this was money you would have in addition to what we already gave you,” Curtis told the college leaders. “We have to decide which way we are going to go. Are we going to say we aren’t going to give them any money because the quarter cent sales tax satisfies their needs?”

 

Tension at work session

Community college leaders and county commissioners met last week to hash out the issue. Despite civility by both sides, the tension was obvious.

Commissioner Bill Upton opened the meeting in a friendly fashion, but admitted upfront that everyone may not get what they want.

“Tonight is for us to listen,” Upton said. “We’ll find out what we agree on and what we don’t agree on. We won’t always agree, but we will go away happy knowing that people are listening.”

“I appreciate you laying the groundwork for this being friendly and informative conversation. That’s how we are approaching it also,” Johnson replied.

The format wasn’t exactly what the college desired, however. The commissioners took their usual place behind a long meeting table at the front of the room, while college representatives sat in the audience. To speak, they had to take turns coming up to a podium and speaking into a microphone.

“We envisioned we would all be sitting at a big conference table to allow for more give and take,” Johnson said at one point in the meeting.

The community college came armed with a slide presentation, replete with bar graphs and charts. The first half was aimed at demonstrating the value of the college to the community, followed by budget numbers illustrating the funding shortfall.

The college produced staggering figures: $33.2 million is needed between now and 2014. The number includes new construction, repairs, renovations, equipment and infrastructure.

The figures weren’t pulled out of a hat. Johnson said college staff spent the past two weeks getting estimates from contractors for every item on the wish list.

Of the total, new buildings and major additions account for the lion’s share — $25 million. It would take 30 years for the sales tax revenue to cover it all — even if none of it is diverted for maintenance and repairs.

County Manager David Cotton said the college clearly has needs beyond what the sales tax will pay for at the moment, but there’s nothing the county can do about that.

“I understood the agreement was ‘pay as you go’ and the quarter cent sales tax, whatever that amount was, would be the cap,” Cotton said.

 

Flagship in tatters

The first new building the college plans to tackle is a creative arts building, one of the college’s renowned degree programs. The college teaches commercial woodworking, pottery, weaving, jewelry making and more, along with a business component that helps artists thrive as entrepreneurs.

“It so well-known that people move here to do that program. It has been very important to us,” Neal Ensley said.

But the arts and crafts building is also one of those most in need of repair.

“It was falling down around the students,” Leatherwood said.

The old one will simply be demolished after the new one is built. The cost is estimated at $10 million.

The quarter cent sales tax is on track to bring in $1.5 million this year. It’s enough to cover payments on a $12 million loan over 15 years. That leaves another $2 million on the table for other projects that could be wrapped into the loan and tackled immediately.

Plus, the sales tax will likely reap a little more each year as commerce increases.

“When the economy does recover, I would anticipate some natural growth in the sales tax so I would think over time there would be additional funds annually,” Cotton said.

Not every penny of the sales tax proceeds will go to the loan payments, leaving more to work with.

But, the problem remains whether the county will restore the college’s annual contribution, which went toward maintenance.

“If we don’t get that annual allocation, we can’t function as a college. So that is the true issue,” Johnson told commissioners.

Buildings on campus are valued at more than $50 million, and it takes money to maintain that kind of facility, said Neal Ensley, an engineer and a member of the HCC trustees.

“If we don’t get that [appropriation], it will be a serious problem for the college,” Ensley said.

But that’s something the commissioners can’t answer right now. Next year’s budget is still in its infancy. It will be refined over the next two months as commissioners grapple with the usual tough decisions.

With the economy holding steady if not improving slightly, the county’s revenue should begin looking up. As commerce increases, so do sale tax revenues, which the county gets a part of. And as construction returns, new homes and businesses get added to the property tax base.

The uptick will be slight if anything, and for now the county is banking on a flat budget for the coming year.

“We don’t have the money right now, and it is hard to make people happy when you don’t have money,” Upton said.

“This budget is going to be tough,” Commissioner Skeeter Curtis agreed. “We cut millions of dollars in the current budget. The employees gave up time and money out of their pocket to get us where we are.”

“And jobs,” Commissioner Mark Swanger added.

“We cut the school system, we cut the county, we cut a lot of other people,” Upton said.

The county would be in a difficult position if it restored the budget for the community college ahead of everyone else, Upton said.

“I’m sure our school people would come to us and say ‘How about reinstating our capital outlay,’” Upton said.

 

Root of the conflict

An underlying source of contention is whether the county has failed to deliver on financial promises it made to the college over two years ago.

In 2007 — before the quarter cent sales tax idea was on the horizon — county commissioners and college leaders struck an agreement to give the college an advance on their annual funding. The college had a couple larger than normal projects it wanted to carry out — projects that exceeded the $500,000 capital outlay it was getting from the county each year.

So the county commissioners agreed to take out a $2.6 million loan on behalf of the college to fund the work. The county would then deduct the loan payments from future contributions each year until it was paid off.

“We couldn’t see anyway to get anything done at HCC unless we borrowed the money and paid it back with the $500,000,” Upton said.

The college got to work preparing construction documents and paperwork for the loan. But the construction documents were held up at the state level. In all, the process took two years.

With everything finally in hand, the college came to the county last month ready to make good on the offer of a loan.

But along the way, things had changed. Most notably, the recession had a stranglehold on the county. As part of countywide cuts, the college saw its maintenance and construction funding slashed by two-thirds, from $500,000 to $165,000.

The county commissioners couldn’t guarantee when the annual funding would be restored. That threw a wrench in the plans for a loan. The annual contributions were supposed to cover the loan payments but were no longer enough to do so.

Upton said the commissioners were somewhat surprised when the college showed up last month asking the county to make good on the loan promise made over two years ago.

“For two years, we really haven’t talked about the $2.6 million,” Upton said.

“I disagree,” Dr. Johnson replied.

“Where was it talked about?” Commissioner Mark Swanger asked Johnson.

Johnson said the college board of trustees and the college strategic planning committee regularly referenced the pending loan from the county. County Manager David Cotton was a part of those meetings, and Johnson assumed he was reporting back to the commissioners.

“There seems to be a disconnect between what has been discussed very thoroughly in strategic planning meetings and what has been presented to the commissioners from those meetings,” Johnson said. “We made decisions based on what we were understanding from county staff.”

Johnson said that appears to be the source of the misunderstanding.

Cotton took issue with the comment and called it disparaging.

“You address your board and I address mine. I feel I have kept them up to speed on the process. I did take offense to that remark,” Cotton said.

Johnson apologized and said she didn’t intend it that way. Johnson said the college trustees “moved forward in good faith” on things that apparently weren’t hard and fast decisions.

Swanger said discussions the college leaders had with county staff during planning meetings are just that: discussion, not decisions.

“They are not binding,” Swanger told Johnson. “We need to make sure that monetary decisions are not made based on conversations that were not formally endorsed by this board.”

However, Johnson assumed she would have been corrected somewhere along the way if the loan had been taken off the table.

Upton asked why it took so long for the loan to get squared away.

“Our request for that construction was stalled at the state level for many, many, many months,” Johnson said. “It was not lack of work on the behalf of the college. It was beyond our control.”

Johnson said county staff was updated regularly of the status.

The college had two projects in mind for the $2.6 million: $1.8 million for an expansion and $800,000 for major roof replacements.

As the college waited and waited to get construction documents approved on the expansion, it chose to move forward with the roof repairs. To pay for it, the college borrowed from flood settlement funds. The flood money stemmed from the 2004 flooding along the Pigeon River, which destroyed several satellite HCC buildings near downtown Clyde.

The flood money was supposed to go toward only new construction, theoretically to replace the destroyed classroom buildings, and not things like roof repairs. But the college planned to pay back the borrowed flood money as soon as the loan from the county came through.

Johnson said it is “critically important” to repay the flood money.

“We need to repay the flood settlement fund for monies that have been diverted for other purposes,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the county had previously agreed to pay back what was borrowed from the flood account with the $2.6 million loan.

Commissioners seemed puzzled, however, and asked County Manager David Cotton if he could remember such a promise.

Johnson said she thought the commissioners passed a resolution to that effect. Cotton disagreed. The commissioners did pass a resolution pledging to help the college with a loan, but it made no reference to paying back what was borrowed from the flood settlement fund.

“I wasn’t aware there was an agreement for you to spend money and get reimbursed,” Davis said.

“I wasn’t aware of it,” Commissioner Skeeter Curtis said.

“I wasn’t aware of it,” Commissioner Mark Swanger echoed. “I wasn’t even aware that money was being used. I reviewed the minutes, and it is not reflected in the minutes.”

Mark Bumgarner, chairman of the HCC Board of Trustees, then stepped up to the microphone and said the more important issue was that the county had promised to take out a $2.6 million loan on the college’s behalf. The college was counting on that, he said.

The college will still get the money, Davis chimed in. It will just come from a different source now.

The sales tax has been accumulating since October 2008. In another few months, there will be just the right amount saved up to cover everything the college needs without taking out a loan.

“We will end up with $2.6 million sitting there,” Davis said. “They are going to get the money, it’s just we aren’t going to have to borrow it.”

“And that is from the quarter cent sales tax money,” Dr. Johnson clarified.

“Right,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley said.

Ultimately, county commissioners voted not to do the loan, but instead to use money from the quarter cent sales tax.

Using the accumulated pot of sales tax money won’t affect the county’s ability to still take out a $12 million loan for the creative arts building, Davis said.

 

Pinching pennies?

Commissioners questioned whether the college is making the best use of the money it has.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley did a cost comparison of the creative arts building and other construction projects in the county in recent years, including the new jail, justice center and Bethel Elementary School.

“I am a little it concerned with the cost. This is the most expensive building per square foot that I have seen in Haywood County by far,” Ensley said.

“You would have to compare apples to apples,” Johnson replied.

Johnson said the creative arts building requires dust collection systems for the woodworking classrooms, air ventilation for jewelry making and extremely high-energy use for pottery kilns. The college also has to meet energy efficiency mandates imposed by the state for new buildings. The energy used by the kilns and shop tools made it particularly costly to meet those state mandates.

Under Johnson, the college has embarked on green initiatives aimed at sustainability. Commissioner Swanger questioned whether green features incorporated into the building cost more.

Johnson said the building’s green features don’t cost any more than a traditional design would, according to estimates of both.

Nonetheless, Ensley asked the college leaders to go over the plans for the creative arts building and look for savings.

“I want to be a good steward of taxpayers money, and I really wish y’all could take a good look at this,” Kevin Ensley said. “That is my honest opinion — it is a couple, three million too high.”

But it may be too late to realize substantial returns.

“We may have approached the creative arts facility a little differently knowing the facts we know today, but we are sufficiently on the train tracks, and it is really hard to make changes,” said Bumgarner, chair of the HCC trustees.

Commissioner Skeeter Curtis asked why all this mattered since the money is coming out of a special sales tax fund anyway.

“I think we have lost focus here,” Curtis said. “The people in this county voted that in and the quarter cent belongs to the community college. It is their money.”

Swanger said it is still tax dollars being paid by county residents, and it should be spent prudently.

In this case, Curtis said, it was up to the college to be prudent with the money.

Swanger disagreed. If the college overspends on the creative arts building, “then the college comes back to us for additional appropriations to fill in other gaps,” Swanger said.

“We aren’t picking up the gap anyhow,” Curtis countered.

Curtis made it clear that he wasn’t happy about the cuts the college suffered at the hands of the county.

“By law, the county is supposed to keep it up, and we just let it go a long time. It was falling apart out there. We have let a lot of our facilities end up like [that],” Curtis said.

“We have to decide what are we going to take care of. This is going to get worse as years go on. That’s the reason we are in the situation we are in now because we haven’t done anything,” Curtis said. “We need to keep this from happening to the next board.”

Curtis expressed similar sentiments last month when the commissioners became the new owner of the fairgrounds. The Haywood County Fair board had relied on an annual contribution from the county to pay off a loan for a new arena. When the recession hit and the funding was cut, the fair board couldn’t pay the loan and faced foreclosure.

So the county stepped in to rescue the fairgrounds, anteing up the money to pay off the loan after all and assuming ownership of the fairgrounds from the nonprofit in the process.

Curtis had the unique stance of voting against a slight property tax increase last year during the thick of the recession. His reason: it wasn’t enough of an increase. Curtis felt the cuts to the county budget went too deep and too far. Curtis’ seat is up for election this year, but he is not running.

Commissioner Ensley pointed out that the county is paying $300,000 a year on a loan for the construction of the HCC Child Development Center, a teaching institution and daycare combined.

“I think it is important that everyone know the full contributions the county is making,” Swanger chimed in. “The child development center is substantial.”

The county also donated a tract of land to the college for future expansion that is valued between $650,000 and $900,000.

HCC offers green building certificate for construction students

A model home under construction on the Haywood Community College campus is giving construction majors hands-on training in green building techniques.

The demonstration house will take two years to build. It was launched in conjunction with a new green building track within the construction degree.

The green home will not only help students get hands-on experience in green building techniques, but will continue to serve as a model for builders and the public. That lasting impact was one of the primary goals.

“We wanted to build a house that someone could look at and say ‘I might not be able to do all this, but I can do some of it,’” said John Mark Roberts, an instructor for the green building certification.

Roberts has seen lots of inquiries into the green building certificate since its launch this fall. Construction students are excited about the extra skill set that will hopefully set them apart from others in the building industry.

“I think it will be in high demand in the future,” said Trent Burgess, 18. “With all the green stuff coming in, there will be more and more people wanting their houses built green. So I figured I could get a head start on it.”

The green building certificate can be earned as a compliment to HCC’s construction degree, or as a stand-alone program, which appeals to builders already in the profession who want to expand their skills — especially these days.

“Times are slack as you know,” said Al Dinofa, a builder who decided to put his down time in the industry to good use by getting his green building certificate at HCC. “I’m learning a lot of different things.”

Even those who don’t start out drawn to the green building track soon realize its worth.

“All my students are seeing that it is marketable,” said Roberts.

Among them is Colby Stamey, 20, who started out in the regular construction program last year.

“I think it will become useful in the years to come,” Stamey said.

Even those who don’t take the special track will get an extra helping of green building techniques — a direct result of HCC’s campus-wide sustainability focus.

“It is pretty heavily incorporated in our general curriculum,” Roberts said.

Green building is more than the use of eco-friendly materials, although that’s certainly part of it. But it also means disturbing as little land as possible outside the building’s actual footprint and protecting streams from erosion runoff.

Energy is also a big part of the program. Graduates will be versed in geothermal heating and solar technology. Students will be able to perform an energy rating for a house once they’ve built it, including testing for air leaks and giving the buyer an estimated annual energy cost.

The green building demonstration house is funded largely by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, a research arm of the U.S. Forest Service. Financial support also came from the Janirve Foundation, Progress Energy and Home Trust Bank.

“Building green is certainly going to be a wave of the future,” said N.C. Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who attended the September groundbreaking on the green building demonstration house and is an architect. “It’s great to see the community college focus on that. To have a whole new generation of contractors who know best practices, that’s a good thing.”

HCC trains tomorrow’s developers in sustainable methods

When Candace Stimson lost her job last winter due to the recession, she seized the opportunity to go back to school and pursue something meaningful.

She wasn’t sure just what that would be, however, until she happened upon a new degree being offered at Haywood Community College. This fall, HCC became the first college or university in the state to offer a degree in low-impact development.

“Right now people are starting to look around and see how important it is to take care of the earth,” said Stimson, 42. “Things are going to get more and more green. We are heading in that direction as a country.”

HCC forged the curriculum from scratch and convinced the state community college system that the field warranted its very own degree.

“We actually developed it from the ground up,” said Chad Bledsoe, vice president of the academic affairs at HCC. “We saw with the changing economy and the green movement, there would be a need for individuals with these skill sets.”

Winning support wasn’t a terribly hard sell, but did make for a teaching moment.

“People at the state level were not aware of low-impact development, so we went through an education process of what kind of career a person with that degree would have,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, president of HCC.

The college had to prove there was a demand in the marketplace for the graduates in the field — and that it rose to the level of a standalone degree. So HCC solicited input from the development industry to help make that point through interviews and roundtables.

The idea for the degree got a strong endorsement across the real estate, development and construction industry. Their input helped refine and shape the curriculum, honing in on the skills new hires touting knowledge in sustainable development should have.

“They were able to give us information about the number of people they would want to employ if we got a program in place and had graduates coming out of it,” Johnson said. “They were so excited about it. We felt like there was a lot of emerging job potential that would cut across many sectors.”

The curriculum scored final approval by the state less than a month before the start of the school year. The new degree has just eight students this fall, but it’s expected to grow.

“We are going to see a statewide draw, and from other states as well,” Bledsoe said.

As graduates filter through the program and into the workplace, they will hopefully influence future development practices throughout the region, Johnson said.

“We want to show how you build without destroying the land and ground you are building on,” Johnson said.

The new degree dovetails with a sustainability push Johnson is spearheading campus wide, from incorporating biodiesel and alternative fuels in automotive classes to installing solar panels on the new craft building that is slated to get under construction next year.

How it started

The low-impact development degree has been in the making for more than three years. It dates back to a sustainable development pilot project pursued jointly by the college, Haywood Waterways Association and Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District. The organizations pooled grant money and expertise to help two developers go the low-impact route.

The pilot helped developers tailor their projects to the mountain terrain, and that allowed them to protect the environment while maximizing profit.

Some poorly planned developments have left an unfortunate mark on the mountain region: crumbling roads and slipping foundations, streams decimated by erosion and slopes cut so steep stabilization after the fact is hopeless. In most cases, the environmental and construction nightmares could have been avoided with better planning up front.

“You look at any development here in Western North Carolina and there are several lots that will sit there and continue to sit there because it’s too steep,” said Blair Bishop, a natural resources instructor at HCC and one of the designers for the low-impact development curriculum.

Following the principles advocated in the college’s curriculum allows developers to end up with a more marketable subdivision. They can avoid lots that looked suitable on paper but on the ground are unworkable, perhaps hemmed in by a creek on one side and large boulders on the other, leaving no room to shoehorn a house or driveway without serious earth moving — and in turn environmental consequences.

“It is definitely environmental but also economical in terms of planning those communities,” said Bishop, who served as the “boots on the ground” during the pilot project.

The degree could be applied to development anywhere and will touch on some of the environmental considerations in other regions. In coastal areas for example, steep slopes aren’t a problem but sandy soils and fragile underground aquifers are.

The new degree will fall under the umbrella of the Natural Resources Department at HCC. The Natural Resource Department already has a reputation for one of the most outstanding two-year degrees in fields like forestry, wildlife management and horticulture. While most community colleges cater almost entirely to students in their own backyard, the natural resources program at HCC draws students from across the state and even the country looking for hands-on training

Bledsoe expects it won’t be long until other colleges copy the degree now that HCC did the hard work of designing the curriculum and getting the state to recognize it.

“We hope we will model for other institutions,” Bledsoe said.

The college is offering a low-impact development certificate as well as the full-fledged degree. It’s obviously not as comprehensive, but is ideal for those already in the industry who want to bone up on sustainable practices.

HCC will hire a new full-time instructor dedicated to the low-impact development degree before the start of the next semester.

As for Stimson, she hopes to find work as a consultant for developers, graders and contractors when she becomes one of the first graduates in the state to hold such a degree.

“It fit right in with my values,” Stimson said. “I have a farm myself and I love the outdoors. I live in the mountains because it is so beautiful here. We have to start taking care of that.”

Conservation fund donates land to HCC

Haywood Community College recently acquired a 328-acre tract of land located at Balsam Gap through a generous gift from The Conservation Fund.

Bordering the Blue Ridge Parkway for 3 miles, the property forms the headwaters of Dark Ridge Creek, which shelters a pure strain of brook trout.

As a natural extension of protected forest land, the Balsam Gap property will serve as a teaching environmental laboratory for HCC’s

Natural Resources programs. This laboratory of native hardwoods and plants will serve HCC’s Forest Management, Fish and Wildlife, GIS/GPS, Low Impact Development and Horticulture programs. HCC is one of only a few community colleges across the nation to offer these comprehensive programs and as a result serves a diversity of students from across the U.S.

“Our Natural Resources programs are attractive not only because of their quality of instruction and high rate of job placement but also because of their field-based instructional methodologies,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, HCC President. “The Balsam Gap property will greatly enhance our students learning experiences by providing more hands-on, in-the-field instruction. This property will have a profound impact on HCC, its students and our surrounding communities. I am deeply grateful to The Conservation Fund for this gift.”

HCC student finishes second at lumberjack event

A Haywood Community College wildlife student brought home a second-place finish in the STIHL Timbersports Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Challenge this month.

Daniel Jones, 22, from Hayesville, combined precision, strength and speed to bring home the honor. Jones is a freshman majoring in Fish and Wildlife Management with plans to study forest management.

In a timbersports meet, lumberjacks go head-to-head in four different disciplines: the solo crosscut saw, standing block chop, chain saw and underhand chop. Haywood Community College is always a top performer in the timber sports arena and long considered a school to reckon with.

Jones made big strides quickly, after just getting started in lumberjack sports last fall. His best events are chainsaw and the underhand chop. He only began training on the standing block chop a month ago, after it was added as a new skill in the all-around field.

The event was presented by Carhartt and filmed and produced by ESPNU.

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