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State bond package, WCU project win backing of Asheville Chamber, Jackson officials

A statewide bond package that would mean $110 million for a replacement for Western Carolina University’s obsolete Natural Sciences Building picked up a key endorsement from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and pledges of support from government officials across Jackson County.

A replacement for WCU’s 1970s-era building is among the projects that would be funded by the $2 billion Connect NC bond initiative, which also includes funding for other University of North Carolina system institutions, the North Carolina Community College System, the state park system, the Department of Agriculture, the North Carolina Zoo and the National Guard, and to help local governments pay for water and sewer infrastructure initiatives.

Chancellor David Belcher makes the case for the urgent need to replace WCU's current Natural Sciences Building, one of many items that a proposed bond issue could fund.

Chancellor David Belcher makes the case for the urgent need to replace WCU's current Natural Sciences Building, one of many items that a proposed bond issue could fund.

After hearing from leaders of WCU, University of North Carolina Asheville and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution of support for the bond issue at its meeting Jan. 26.

“The Connect NC Bond Act benefits our core support structures that impact the region’s ability to grow our economy including infrastructure, education and tourism,” said Suzanne DeFerie, president of Asheville Savings Bank and chair of the Asheville Chamber Board of Directors. “We encourage voters to vote ‘yes’ for the Connect NC Bond Act on March 15.”

In addition to the $110 million that would go to WCU’s project, UNCA would receive $21.1 million for repair and renovation of Owen and Carmichael halls, while A-B Tech would receive $5.4 million for repair and renovation of several campus buildings.

“A-B Tech, UNC Asheville and Western Carolina University are vital to the economic growth of our region,” said Kit Cramer, president and CEO for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. “The Connect NC Bond Act would enable these institutions to make much-needed infrastructure improvements so they can continue to prepare graduates to meet the region’s workforce needs. Strong education institutions support our ability to attract and retain companies in high-growth industries like health care, advanced manufacturing and technology.”

The Asheville Chamber’s resolution states in part: “The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the Connect NC Bond Act as it will enable North Carolina’s systems of higher education to prepare a highly qualified workforce for the 21st century, and will support our state parks, National Guard, and community infrastructure and agricultural resources. Furthermore, the chamber pledges to educate and inform area citizenry about the importance of the bond while also encouraging the approval of the provisions of the Connect NC Bond Act.”

During a joint meeting of Jackson County governmental units Monday, Feb. 1, Brian McMahan, chair of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, presented a resolution in support of the bond package and encouraged elected officials from the municipalities of Sylva, Dillsboro, Webster and Forest Hills to endorse the resolution. The county board is scheduled to consider the resolution at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 4.

“This is a historic and significant vote that will be taking place,” McMahan said. “We all know the needs that we face in this state and that we have some major infrastructure improvements that need to be made.”

The heads of Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University attended a joint meeting of Jackson County governmental units to talk about the proposed bond issue. Gathering at the event are (from left) Brian McMahan, chairman, Jackson County Board of Commissioners; Don Tomas, president, SCC; David Belcher, chancellor, WCU; Linda Sossamon, mayor of Sylva; Mike Fitzgerald, mayor of Dillsboro; Tracy Rodes, mayor of Webster; and Kolleen Begley, mayor of Forest Hills.

The heads of Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University attended a joint meeting of Jackson County governmental units to talk about the proposed bond issue. Gathering at the event are (from left) Brian McMahan, chairman, Jackson County Board of Commissioners; Don Tomas, president, SCC; David Belcher, chancellor, WCU; Linda Sossamon, mayor of Sylva; Mike Fitzgerald, mayor of Dillsboro; Tracy Rodes, mayor of Webster; and Kolleen Begley, mayor of Forest Hills.

The joint Jackson County resolution reads that “…$110 million would be allocated to Western Carolina University for the construction of a new natural sciences building that would have direct, lasting impact on our region’s ability to attract and retain companies offering high-paying jobs.” It also states that $350 million would be invested in the North Carolina Community College System for renovations and construction projects, including $7.17 million at Southwestern Community College to renovate existing buildings and provide new space for new and expanding programs.

“The investment of $117.17 million at the campuses of Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College would have an immediate impact on the economy of our community and the region as a whole,” the resolution states.

Elsewhere in the region, the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce board passed a resolution in support of the NC Connect Bond at its January meeting, and the public policy committee of the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce will have a recommendation of support for the bond issue going before the full Board of Directors at its meeting Monday, Feb. 8.

Other Western North Carolina community colleges would receive funding from the bond – Tri-County, $4.5 million; Haywood, $2.8 million; Blue Ridge, $2.9 million; and Isothermal, $6.8 million.

WCU’s Natural Sciences Building needs to be replaced so that the university can provide more graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) fields to meet growing regional workforce demands in Western North Carolina in health care, high-tech manufacturing and natural products development, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said.

By Bill Studenc

Categories | The Reporter


Photos | WCU News Services

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