UNC president lobbies for bond support in Charlotte

Margaret Spellings, the newly appointed head of the University of North Carolina system, made her first official visit to UNC Charlotte Monday and used the occasion for a last-minute plea to voters to approve a $2 billion statewide bond referendum on Tuesday’s ballot.

Nearly half the bond money is slated for UNC system campuses for a variety of projects, including a $90 million science building at UNC Charlotte. Central Piedmont Community College will also benefit, with $9.6 million to help buy a second energy plant on the central campus to help power recently built buildings.

If the referendum passes, no new taxes will be added, she said.

“This matters a lot for the future of North Carolina and the future of higher education,” she said, urging the public to “get out and support students as an investment in our future.”

Spellings visited Charlotte as part of a “listening tour” of the 17 UNC system campuses during her first 100 days as president. She took over the UNC system March 1, after weathering controversy surrounding previous roles with a student loan collection agency and her 2005 attempts to block PBS from broadcasting a cartoon featuring a same-sex couple. Spellings was the nation’s education secretary at the time.

“First thing I’d say is, give me a chance,” Spellings said of criticism over her past. “This is the beginning of my third week on the job.”

Her visit to UNC Charlotte was to include a meeting with students Tuesday, as part of an effort to hear their concerns about the system.

UNC Charlotte is expected to enroll 28,700 students next year. About half the students who declare a major are concentrating on science, technology, engineering and math curricula, which is why the new science building is sought, said UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois.

The current two-story Burson science building opened in 1985 when the university’s enrollment was about 11,000. Consequently, the building is cramped with outdated lecture halls and wooden protective laboratory hoods, instead of the safer steel hoods that replaced them decades ago in chemistry labs at other universities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.

“We are simply at the limit of what we can do with that building as we continue to grow,” said Dubois.

Should the referendum pass, the vacated Burson building will be renovated and that space used for classrooms and office space, Dubois said. The money to do that renovation work will have to be raised, he added.

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