Less than a week before Tuesday’s primary, the leaders of Charlotte’s two public higher education institutions hit the campaign trail Wednesday to push for a $2 billion statewide bond referendum.
Nearly half the money would be slated for UNC system campuses for a variety of projects that include a $90 million science building at UNC Charlotte.
The current two-story science building opened in 1985 when the university’s enrollment was about 11,000. It has since jumped to nearly 28,000, with about half the students who have declared majors concentrating on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula.
Consequently, the Burson building is cramped with outdated lecture halls and wooden protective laboratory hoods, instead of the safer steel hoods that replaced them decades ago in chemistry labs at other universities across the country.
Even students who major in philosophy or political science must take courses that require at least one laboratory component at a school that is expected to grow to 35,000 students.
“Our existing science building just isn’t big enough, or modern enough,” Chancellor Phil Dubois told about 120 members of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club during a Wednesday luncheon. “For an institution that’s going to grow to 35,000 students, we need to get that building replaced.”
The bonds have been endorsed by Gov. Pat McCrory, the Charlotte Chamber and new UNC system President Margaret Spellings. Taxes would not rise as a result of the bonds if voters approve the measure.
Projects at the state’s community colleges would get $350 million, with about $9.6 million scheduled for Central Piedmont Community College.
If you want to do something good for your community and your state, just go vote and vote for these bonds. You’ll get a great return from your investment, and your investment is one vote.
Tony Zeiss, retiring president of Central Piedmont Community College
Retiring CPCC President Tony Zeiss told the group that most of its allotment would buy a second energy plant on the central campus to help power recently built buildings. The college, he said, also needs a new truck pad for its new truck driving program.
“If we want to live well, we have to educate well,” Zeiss said. “People say the cost of education is high. Yes, but the cost of ignorance is worse.”
The remainder will go to repair and expand parks, support environmental education and build regional facilities for the Army National Guard. Some $309 million would be dedicated to modernizing water and sewer plants in rural towns and larger cities across the state.
The referendum, at the bottom on next week’s ballot, comes 15 years after North Carolina voters approved by a wide margin $3.1 billion for the UNC system and community colleges. The money launched 728 building projects across the state that added 12 million square feet of space, transforming campuses with new and renovated residence halls, cutting-edge classroom buildings, libraries and other buildings that catered to students.
Of all the new enrollment at the 17 UNC campuses since 2009, 61 percent has been at UNC Charlotte. – Chancellor Phil Dubois
Since then, enrollments at many campuses – including UNCC and CPCC – have exploded. Yet of all the new enrollment at the 17 UNC campuses since 2009, 61 percent has been at UNCC, Dubois said.
CPCC is the state’s largest community college. The school, like many two-year colleges, has become a launching point for many students to go to four-year schools or learn new skills and work. They have also become critical retraining centers for the state’s workforce after factories were shuttered beginning in the 1980s and unemployment spiraled during the recession.
Both leaders said their schools wouldn’t have grown without the 2000 bonds. The last 10 years, UNCC saw about $1 billion in new construction. But when the recession hit, most building and repairs stopped as enrollment continued to grow, Dubois said.
UNCC has the lowest academic space per student in the UNC system, he said. “Even though we’ve added all this space, all these years we’ve grown through that space, so we’re at the same level,” Dubois said. “I’m hoping this science building will really give us a boost.”
Zeiss said his school’s five satellite campuses wouldn’t have been built if voters had turned down the bond issue in the 2000 referendum.
“If you want to do something good for your community and your state, just go vote and vote for these bonds,” he said. “You’ll get a great return from your investment, and your investment is one vote.”
Perlmutt: 704-358-5061; @dperlmutt