Fire destroys HCC sawmill, closes campus

fr hccfireThe remnants of Haywood Community College’s old sawmill were still smoldering Tuesday after a fire the night before destroyed most of the building.

Do-over on Haywood Community College president search raises questions

Haywood Community College employees earlier this month presented the board of trustees with a list of concerns about the college’s protracted search for a new president.

The community college began looking for a president after retiring president Rose Johnson announced her resignation last year. The search made it all the way to three finalists, who visited the college and met with community members as well as HCC employees.

HCC brings on interim president for short stint

Haywood Community College trustees have picked an interim president to replace current leader Rose Johnson who will retire at the end of this month.

William Aiken will start as interim president at HCC on Nov. 1. He served as president of Sampson Community College in Clinton for more than a decade.

The search is on for an HCC president — and an interim, again

Haywood Community College has not only expanded its search for a new president, but is now on the hunt for an interim president as well.

It’s the second bump in what was initially mapped out as a smooth transition following the retirement of HCC President Rose Johnson.

HCC trustees narrowly split on whether to expand their search for new president

The Haywood Community College Board of Trustees have apparently rejected five finalists in its search for a new college president and will now cast a wider net by selecting five additional candidates.

In a split vote earlier this month, the Board of Trustees decided to expand their search for a new president after interviewing its five finalists. The board will meet at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 20 to discuss the process for going forward.

HCC’s electric vehicle charging station part of a growing network

By Peggy Manning • Correspondent

North Carolina is in the process of “paving” the electric vehicle highway and Western North Carolina is well on its way to being an important spoke in that wheel.

Haywood Community College has the only electric vehicle charging station west of Asheville, but several are popping up in Asheville and around the region.

Creative arts building back for more contingency funds

A feeling of déjà vu swept over the Haywood County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday as they reviewed more than $19,000 worth of changes to the Haywood Community College’s creative arts building project.

These were not the first, or even the second, design issues that have arisen during the already controversial project. The construction has racked up more than $300,000 in changes, which has left the commissioners wondering how much more money they will have to shell out and, more importantly, how much of that they will get back.

The project is still within its $10.2-million budget. A contingency fund was built into the price tag to cover unexpected costs that crop up during the course of construction. There is still more than $300,000 in the fund.

The conversation between the commissioners and Bill Dechant, HCC’s director of campus development, seemed rehearsed the third time around as Dechant described some additional work that needed to be done to a steel structural column.

“Was this a design error?” asked Board Chairman Mark Swanger.

“It was a design omission,” Dechant said.

“It will be taken up with the architect?” Swanger then queried.

“Yes,” Dechant replied on cue.

The college has already begun negotiations with the architect regarding mistakes that have arisen during the project. Architects from the Raleigh-based Innovative Design have taken responsibility for some of the problems, and HCC hopes that the firm will reimburse the county for the cost of those errors.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick asked the college to provide the board with updates on the reimbursement negotiations with the architectural firm and a local surveyor.

“I really hope you all put the pressure on the architect and the surveyor,” said Commissioner Mike Sorrells.

Dechant moved onto the priciest of the three change orders, re-grading and repaving a parking lot — a nearly $16,500 cost. The revision was to solve drainage problems that resulted from a lack of information on a topographical survey.

It was not an omission or an error, Dechant said. “It just did not have enough detail.”

However, Commissioner Kevin Ensley, a surveyor by trade, said the survey should have included enough information to prevent the problem.

“They should have gotten that information. A survey should pick this up,” Ensley said. “It’s an omission.”

When asked who the surveyor was, Dechant laughed uncomfortably and admitted that he could not recall at that time. The same survey led to additional costs last month related to the repaving of a sidewalk to prevent other drainage problems.

Although the commissioners seem increasingly exasperated by the repeat visits, Dechant repeated that the amount of revisions is minor considering the scope of the $10.2 million project.

“It’s a complex building, and we have had very few change orders considering,” Dechant said.

It looks like even more change orders are in the cards, however. Another round of change orders were considered by the college’s Board of Trustees at their meeting last week — six change orders in all valued at nearly $12,000.

Change orders first go through the college trustees, then on to the commissioners, so commissioners are likely to get this next batch eventually. The list also reflects more than $7,000 in savings because of various changes to the project.

In January, Dechant went before the Haywood County Board of Commissioners seeking approval to use more than $262,000 in contingency funds. Most of it went to a water pump needed to provide adequate water pressure for the building’s sprinkler system.

Architects from Innovative Design erred when studying the water pressure earlier in the planning process. They tested the pressure in the main water lines running through campus a few hundred feet below the building site. As water flows up the hill to the new building, it loses pressure — a fact the architect did not factor into his plans, Dechant said at a previous commissioners meeting.

In April, he returned to the Board of Commissioners asking for a little more than $25,000 to widen a doorway, reinforce an outside deck and construct a retaining wall as well as pay for a couple of minor miscellaneous items.

Last year, the commissioners and college administrators battled for months about the scope of the creative arts building project, before settling on a plan. Commissioners insisted that the college slash the price of its plans, while administrators argued that the building construction and amenities had been whittled down enough already.

The new facility will house studio and classroom space for students studying the creative arts, such as pottery and woodwork.

Money to pay for the new building is coming from a quarter-cent sales tax approved by county voters more than four years ago to fund improvements to Haywood Community College’s campus.

Model HCC childcare center to get model playground

It might be a day late, but it’s certainly not a dollar short.

A $235,000 playground is coming to the daycare center at Haywood Community College, a long-awaited capstone on a project that was heralded as a model child development center when it opened three-and-a-half years ago.

Clark and Leatherwood construction company of Waynesville was the lowest of five bidders. The playground will take two months to build and could begin as early as next week.

“We hope we can get these kids out there playing by the end of July,” said Bill Dechant, an architect and director of campus development at HCC.

It’s not a moment to soon for Steffie Duginske, a mom with two kids at the HCC child development center.

“We were told when we enrolled our kids there that the money was in the bank and they were in the process of getting a playground going, but time just clicked on and here we are three years later and there is still no playground,” Duginske said.

The playground primarily will be paid for with money left over from construction of the childcare center. Indeed the money was there, but Duginske has been frustrated with the slow pace of bringing it to fruition and the lack of a clear time table until now. Meanwhile, she has looked longingly at the plans and blueprints for the playground that hung on the wall in the hallway for more than a couple of years.

The design was based on brainstorming sessions with parents and children who were asked to envision their dream playground.

“It was a long process, and I don’t know if people realized it would not be something that happened overnight,” said Karen Denney, the director of business operations at HCC. “Every time we had a focus group that mentioned something, the designer was going back and doing renderings based on the input.”

Just as plans were finally getting finished, the person in charge of the playground left and the project ended up in a holding pattern for the lack of a point person over it.

Also, because HCC is a state government entity, it has more arduous policies to follow, including a multi-step bid process when seeking contractors.

“It just wasn’t a quick process to do,” Denney said.

The children do go outside to play, but the spot where the playground is supposed to be is just a large expanse of wood chips. The toddlers have their own play yard with a smattering of temporary plastic toys placed around it.

The long-awaited playground will arguably be first-rate.

“We are very happy it is happening now,” said Rita Wilson, director of the HCC child development center.

The HCC child development center is less than half full. It was built for a capacity of 163 children but serves only about 70 at the moment.

The center opened just as the recession hit. Parents who lost their jobs no longer had a need for childcare, with the number of stay-at-home dads rising in particular.

Meanwhile, state and federal subsidies for childcare have been cut, so working parents with low-wage jobs or parents trying to go to school simply can’t afford childcare, Wilson said.

Given the on-campus location, the childcare center is popular with HCC employees and students. But, it is open to anyone — something that many parents might not realize and could be another reason for the lower-than-anticipated enrollment numbers, Wilson said.

Connected to the land: An early passion borne from goats and Radio Flyer wagon

David Burnette and his wife Diane do things the old way.

“One thing just led to another,” David said of the couple’s self-sufficient lifestyle.

On this day, while David shows a visitor around the couple’s Haywood County homestead, Diane thins out sorghum seedlings in preparation for planting hundreds of the tiny plants this week. All told the couple will tend about an acre of sorghum, made up of different varieties and with different maturity dates. They’ll harvest the sorghum in the fall and make over a hundred gallons of molasses to sell and give away.

David said he’s always had an interest in old timey ways and things. That interest is in full evidence at their home on Dutch Cove Road outside of Canton. There are dozens of plows that David has saved from being turned into metal scrap, plus various cultivators and horse-drawn sleds. These aren’t just on the farm for appearance sake, however.

The Burnettes use workhorses to do much of their plowing and cultivating. They also raise chickens and pigs, one of their sons raises Boer meat goats on the homestead, plus they operate a sawmill and sometimes log land using the team of horses.

David remembered that his father always kept a horse or a pony. But his first experience in working animals wasn’t with horses. Instead it came when David used a bit of broken harness to make a collar for a goat. David soon had that goat pulling a Radio Flyer wagon around the farm. That beginning with the goat led into a lifelong fascination with working horses.

“I like to fool with them,” David said. “To me there’s a lot of satisfaction not to be dependent on anybody’s oil, foreign or domestic.”

David uses the horses to plow and cultivate on the farm. He was getting ready to use them in the next day or so to cultivate his potatoes. Throughout the year he’ll mow hay with the horses, too. David and Diane are popular figures at the Cradle of Forestry, where each spring they participate in a living history event, “Old Time Plowing and Folkways.” The couple in April plowed the Cradle of Forestry’s vegetable garden for the benefit of visitors. Many who watch have never seen horses work like this before, David said.

“A lot of people don’t know where their food comes from,” David said. “There was one lady, who was 30 to 40 years old, who’d never seen a horse before. People are disconnected.”


Making a start

When he was 12 years old or so, David and a friend built a log cabin together, and that interest in building and making things led David into taking machinery at Asheville Buncombe Technical College. He later took classes such as welding at Haywood Community College. He learned basic blacksmithing from a fellow that lived in the area.

“I wanted to be able to do it all,” David said.

Today David teaches hand-wrought metal in the professional crafts program at Haywood Community College.

David took a keen interest in his father’s farm as he grew older, which is the same land where he and Diane live today. David as a young man started cutting hay and working the property. After he and Diane married, David bought a colt, a draft-horse mix, and started working with her on the farm. He and Diane were growing tobacco then and found they needed more horsepower, however. They bought the colt’s half sister and paired the two as a team, marking the beginning of David’s ongoing venture into working horses. Diane, as well as David, works the horses.


Staying connected to the land

Soon the couple bought a team of Belgian colts and broke them to working, too.

David said it took him two or three teams, however, to find ones that truly suited him. The horses temperaments have to match up with the owner, he explained. You might have one team that likes to work fast, another more slowly — it takes time to find exactly the right ones, he said.

“They have different attitudes,” David said. “You have to get horses that are suited to you, that matches your personality.”

You also have to try to pair your team as closely as possible, though he noted “you’ll never get a perfectly matched team.”

David tries to match his team in terms of temperament and height and build. Unlike some folks, he doesn’t worry much about color. That’s just aesthetics, and that doesn’t really count for much when you’re really working them in the field.

David said there seems to be a lot of fairly new interest among people wanting to learn about working horses.

“There seems to be a resurgence of people getting into it,” David said, adding that this has meant it’s becoming easier and easier to find equipment for horse-drawn teams. Even new equipment is being invented these days, he said, as more and more folks get involved.

“I think this is as good a time as it has ever been to get into it and practice it,” David said.

David believes that people wanting to work with horses would be well advised not to also keep tractors on hand, though he does. That way, the horses are always being worked and the person working them doesn’t have an excuse to go crank up an engine-powered machine in place of the horses. David does use tractors, and with his background in machinery and welding he’s able to keep all his machines up and running.

“Horses like to work,” David said. “A tractor will just sit under the shed and be there a week later.”

HCC makes pitch for bigger budget to county commissioners

Haywood Community College officials have requested an additional $380,000 in county funding this year — all of which would help pay for renovations and new construction on campus.

Similarly to Haywood County Schools, the college has been strapped by recession-drive county budget cuts and now wants its funding restored to past levels. College leaders said the extra money is necessary to cover “projects that can’t wait any longer.”

Campus buildings continue to deteriorate because of a decline in funding that every county department experienced when the economy went sour, school officials said. Historically, HCC received around $500,000 for capital projects, maintenance and upkeep from the county. This year, it received $120,000.

So, the community college is hedging its bets by asking for money for the school’s most pressing projects rather than presenting the entire kitchen sink — which for this year alone includes $2.6 million in improvements.

“We realize we are not going to come in here and ask for $2.6 million,” said Bill Dechant, director of campus development.

College officials met with commissioners last week to present their budget requests.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Mark Swanger asked school officials what other sources of funding they receive for capital improvements.

HCC receives energy rebate funds, grant funding and has saved or reallocated a small portion of its operating funds, Dechant said.

Among HCC’s most important projects is a makeover of the 3300 building, which is currently a machine shop. The structure, which will house classrooms and labs for the natural resources department, needs roof repairs as well as a new entrance.

“Our number one priority … is renovation to our 3300 building,” Dechant said. “Our entrance is very similar to a phone booth.”

There are also sections of cracked pavement and potholes that need repair, an outdated phone system, roof repairs for at least four other buildings, HVAC upgrades, stormwater and sewer line repairs, a new Timbersports facility and demolition of the old sawmill.

It also wants to implement an emergency response system. Emergency alert systems have become a commonplace part of college life ever since the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 as administrators want avoid a potentially catastrophic situation.

“There isn’t a way to reach everyone on campus,” Dechant said.

HCC also plans to tear down the sawmill, which originally sat on the outskirts of campus but has become more centrally located as the college has expanded.

“It’s not the kind of eyesore we need,” Dechant said.

Parts of the demolished structure will be sold for scraps.

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