Designer selected for $17 million health building

Southwestern Community College is gearing up to start work on a $17 million health sciences building, with its trustees last week spending hours listening to pitches from four different companies before selecting the firm LS3P to design the project.

“They had their total team there, and you could see that the total team was involved in the project,” said Gary Shields, an SCC trustee and Macon County commissioner. 

The presentation made it clear that the SCC project would be a priority, Shields said, and he was also impressed by the experience they brought to the table. LS3P has worked on a variety of health education buildings, including the Health Sciences Building at Central Carolina Technical College and the MAHEC Center for Health and Aging at Western Carolina University. 

“The working relationship that some of the trustees have had with them, particularly on our future capital needs project (impressed me),” agreed Mark Jones, an SCC trustee and a Jackson County commissioner. “What also struck me was their experience with other facilities in health sciences building construction — they have extensive experience there.”

Jones also appreciated that LS3P offered a specific goal for completion — June 2019. 

“I don’t remember any of the other companies giving that timeline,” Jones said. 

Based in Charleston, South Carolina, LS3P has eight offices in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The company has a history with SCC, having collaborated with Charlotte-based ColeJenest & Stone in 2015 to produce a master plan for future capital projects on SCC’s Jackson and Swain campuses. The final master plan listed a new health sciences building as SCC’s most pressing capital need, accounting for nearly half of the $34 million of work recommended. 

“This will allow a significant enrollment into the nursing career as well as provide a state-of-the-art education for those nurses,” Jones said. “The nurses that come out of SCC already have a reputation of being some of the best in their industry. This will just take it to another level.”

The existing health building at SCC was built when the college had just four programs in that field, but now there are 14. SCC determined that, with more space, it could accept 100 more health sciences students each year without hiring more instructors, meaning better career opportunities for residents and a better-trained local workforce. 

The building would be partially funded through the N.C. Connect Bond, which North Carolina voters passed in a referendum vote this spring. The $2 billion bond included $7.1 million in funding for capital projects at SCC, and much of that money will go to the health sciences project. The bond requires that the county kick in at least a quarter of the project cost to unlock bond funds. Jackson County would plan to pay for its portion through a new revenue stream created this year when voters approved an additional quarter-cent sales tax. Revenue from the tax will fund capital projects at SCC and in Jackson County Schools. 

The new health sciences building isn’t the only capital project that SCC has in its sights. Trustees also selected LS3P as its top pick for two other pressing projects — constructing a new maintenance building and renovating the Summit Building. The new maintenance building is estimated at $700,000 and the Summit renovation is estimated at $482,000.

According to Scott Baker, vice president of LS3P, the health sciences and maintenance projects will be designed simultaneously. The maintenance building would be constructed before the Summit renovations begin, allowing warehouse storage to be moved out of Summit while that renovation project took place. 

Though SCC’s board of trustees has declared LS3P its top pick for all three projects, it’s not a done deal yet. Because bond money is involved, the project must receive approval from the state before an official contract can be signed and work can begin. 

“It’s such an exciting time for Southwestern Community College and the communities we serve,” said Terry Bell, chairman of the Board of Trustees. “Once all these construction projects are completed, we’ll be in an even better position to serve the people of Jackson, Macon, Swain counties and the Qualla Boundary.”

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