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$210 million CPCC bonds would expand space, opportunities for evolving economy

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/13/16/49/8XA1K.Em.138.jpeg|210
    RYAN CASE - CENTRAL PIEDMONT COMMUNITY COLLEGE
    Hiba Siraj, a science student at Central Piedmont Community College, needs to take organic chemistry to graduate. But when she went to register, both the college’s organic chemistry courses were full, throwing her behind by an academic year. The college hopes voters will approve $210 million in bonds to expand classroom and laboratory spaces.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/13/16/49/SkjX.Em.138.jpeg|210
    T. ORTEGA GAINES - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
    The Citizen building on the Central campus of Central Piedmont Community college CPCC bond referendum, a $210 million package that will build nearly 1 million square feet of new classroom and lab space on all campuses. Space is too cramped for a 37 percent rise in enrollment.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/13/16/49/alEEh.Em.138.jpeg|189
    T. ORTEGA GAINES - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
    The Elizabeth classroom building is under construction on the central campus of Central Piedmont Community College.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/13/16/49/FE2gx.Em.138.jpeg|210
    T. ORTEGA GAINES - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
    A $210 million bond package would build nearly 1 million square feet of new classroom and lab space on all CPCC campuses.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/13/16/49/lT7ek.Em.138.jpeg|210
    T. ORTEGA GAINES - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
    The Elizabeth classroom building under construction on the central campus of Central Piedmont Community College. The college seeks $210 million in bonds for nearly 1 million square feet of new classroom and lab space on all campuses, which aren’t keeping up with a 37 percent rise in enrollment.

More Information

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  • Voter Guide 2013: More on local races
  • CPCC bond projects

    The $210 million in CPCC bond money would help pay for the following 10 projects:

    •  Levine Campus phase 3 (Matthews): Buying land and building 120,000 square feet of classroom space. The project includes space for a middle college, a partnership between CPCC and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

    •  Central Campus (Charlottetowne Avenue): Buying land and building 100,000 square feet of space for high-tech advanced manufacturing training.

    •  Giles Science Building renovation (Central Campus): Will provide more biology and chemistry labs.

    •  Basic Skills-Literacy Center (Central Campus): New 200,000-square-foot facility to help adult students learn basic skills needed for a job and college preparation. Will house GED program.

    •  Terrell Hall renovations and expansion (Central Campus): Built in 1968, the building needs renovation, including electrical, plumbing and HVAC. The project will also add 81,500 square feet of new space. The renovated building will serve as a student services center and a new student union.

    •  Merancas Campus (Huntersville): Buying land and building 100,000 square feet of classroom space.

    •  Cato Campus phase 3 (University area): Would add 100,000 square feet of classroom space on the college’s most crowded campus. The Cato campus is at less than 50 square feet per full-time student, half the state community college standard of providing 100 square feet per full-time student.

    •  Harper Campus phase 4 (southwest Charlotte): Will add 150,000 square feet of classroom space, including space for another CPCC-CMS middle college.

    •  Hendrick Automotive Building expansion (Levine Campus): Project will add 13,000 square feet of space. Facility is used for CPCC student training and industry/dealership continuing education. Project will help more local automotive technicians keep skills and knowledge up to date.

    •  Advanced Technology Center renovation and expansion (Central Campus): Important training center for advance manufacturing and machining programs will get much-needed renovation and 75,000 square feet of new space. The building opened in the early 1990s.



Hiba Siraj was ready. A biology student at Central Piedmont Community College, she needed to take organic chemistry this fall to graduate in the spring and transfer to a four-year school.

Yet the college only has enough laboratory space to offer two classes of 25 students. By the time Siraj could click the “register” button on the school’s website, both classes were full.

That’s put her behind an academic year – a common refrain at the state’s largest community college. Since 2006, enrollment has surged 37 percent but new construction was temporarily halted after the economy soured a year later.

In response, CPCC officials are pushing the Nov. 5 education bond proposal, which referendum that would provide $210 million over five years to renovate classroom buildings, buy land and build nearly 1 million square feet of space on its six campuses.

With so many students and too little classroom and laboratory space, college officials say the added space would mean fewer students would be turned away from classes they need.

Fewer students who’d have to go through what Siraj is experiencing.

“Now I have to wait a whole year to get into the class, and I’m supposed to be graduating in the spring,” said the Pakistani immigrant, who wants to become a dentist. “I will probably have to transfer to a school like UNC Charlotte, but it would be without getting my (associate) degree.”

Doesn’t meet state standard

North Carolina community colleges are required to provide 100 square feet of instructional space for every full-time student. By 2007, CPCC had 78 square feet per student. But as enrollment spiraled and the recession set in, the county went on a “debt diet” and froze new building projects until 2011-12. That year, CPCC got $41 million to complete building and renovation projects.

That brought some relief, but CPCC today still offers only 58 square feet per student. The new projects would boost it to 70 square feet, said CPCC President Tony Zeiss.

In January 2012, the school began planning for the next five years, identifying about $430 million in needs. But after Mecklenburg County commissioners, who control bond spending, told them not to be so ambitious, CPCC came up with 10 top projects that will cost a total of $280 million.

The projects include building 120,000 square feet at the college’s Levine Campus in Matthews, with a middle college for high school students that would be a partnership between CPCC and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The two would partner again at the Harper Campus, including another middle college among the 150,000 square feet of new classroom space there.

There would also be 100,000 square feet of new space for high-tech advanced manufacturing training at the Central Campus near uptown and an additional 100,000 square feet of space at the Merancas Campus in Huntersville.

“We’re a career college, that’s what we’re all about – training students for jobs,” Zeiss said. “People need jobs and need to get trained. Most of that training comes in labs.

“So when it takes longer to get into classes, we’re having to tell far too many students, ‘I’m sorry, we’re going to have to interrupt your progress toward your degree because we don’t have enough lab space.’”

Training for future economy

The college has been a critical partner in job training, particularly in energy and health sciences.

Zeiss and CPCC have been part of an effort to plan a “new economic vision” for Charlotte. In recent years, the city, he said, has focused on three economic hubs: finance, energy and health care.

“We saw what happened in 2008; a lot of people lost jobs,” he said. “We need to broaden our economic base.”

That would include training for advanced manufacturing jobs; logistical jobs, such as those needed for the intermodal rail and trucking facility under construction at Charlotte Douglas International Airport; and entrepreneurial skills to create more small businesses, Zeiss said.

“The city is poised for a new boom and the college has to be there and be ready,” he said. “If we can’t provide the people for those jobs, then the vision likely is not going to be achieved.”

Wouldn’t raise tax rate

Mecklenburg commissioners approved the November bond proposal and an additional $70 million that would be built into yearly budgets and paid as projects are underway and completed. That brings the total to $280 million in project spending.

There’s been little opposition to the CPCC bonds, though some residents in the Elizabeth community have complained in recent years that the college’s latest building projects on Central Campus – such as much-needed parking decks – have begun to encroach on their neighborhood. Two suburban groups that have urged voters to reject the $290 million CMS proposal have said they won’t take a stand on CPCC.

The college stresses that the bonds wouldn’t raise taxes.

That is true, said county commissioner Bill James, because for the first time Mecklenburg has a dedicated bond fund – from which the money for the CPCC and CMS projects would be pulled.

Because of the fund, the bonds “pass financial muster. That means we have money set aside that allows us to pay our debt without raising taxes,” James said.

What voters must decide, he said, is whether the money should be used on these particular projects.

James, who went to a community college before transferring to a four-year school, said he believes the CPCC projects “are reasonable. I believe CPCC can survive with (the money) or without it. But will it make the institution more effective and provide more opportunities for kids? I think the answer is yes.”

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