“I actually kept thinking this morning, ‘Did that happen?’ because I’ve worked on this for so long,” said Patsy Davis, executive director of Mountain Projects, which has been in operation for 52 years, has a roughly-$13 million annual budget, and touches the lives of more than 7,000 people a year.
The previous night, April 17, was an eventful one for Davis and Mountain Projects; she and board chairman Gavin Brown went before Haywood County commissioners to ask for a big favor, which was unanimously granted.
Last year, Mountain Projects agreed to purchase from the county the old health department building on Asheville Road for $325,000, but the USDA loan the nonprofit was counting on fell though quite unexpectedly, at the last minute.
Davis and Brown asked for the county to sell Mountain Projects the building and also carry the note — in essence, offering owner financing.
Although Mountain Projects has $325,000 earmarked for the building project, Davis said the building needs around $630,000 in renovations, including a new roof, HVAC improvements, possible asbestos remediation and some drainage issues.
What Davis also wants is an upgrade for workers who’ve spent lots of time in Mountain Projects’ current Old Balsam Road facility — a century-old building that’s damp, cramped and drafty.
“I want it to be pretty,” she said.
Commissioners agreed to carry the loan at USDA interest rates — currently 3.25 percent — for a 40-year term with a five-year balloon payment, which will allow Mountain Projects to use its own money to begin work on the new digs immediately.
Brown estimated the organization’s monthly mortgage payment would be $1,210.
“This would not have been feasible without the county,” Davis said.
During the meeting, Commissioner Kevin Ensley pointed out that the Mountain Projects’ deal isn’t an outlay by the county — the building is owned outright, has sat vacant for several years, and hasn’t received any offers for purchase. Furthermore, it costs money to maintain.
Ensley also noted that the county extended the same financing plan to Mountain Projects when it moved into its current facility in the mid-70s.
Brown said Mountain Projects would attempt to pay for the balance of the renovations as well as the building, which comes with 1.077 acres of land, through a four-pronged fundraising approach.
First, there’s Mountain Projects’ $325,000 earmark; Brown said the organization would also “aggressively” market the sale of its existing building as well as engage in some community fundraising efforts, the extent of which may be determined by the outcome of a recent $150,000 request to Jackson County commissioners.
One of those commissioners — who also serves as vice chairman of Davis’ board — said he felt the request was received favorably by commissioners.
“I think so,” said Jackson Commissioner Charles Elders. “The sense I walked away with was full support from all five commissioners.”
Elders said the request would probably be considered as part of the county’s annual budget process, which must by law be complete by July 1, meaning Mountain Projects might not hear back about the money until late June.
Nevertheless, Elders stressed the importance of the services Mountain Projects provides in his county.
“There’s a lot of things, from Head Start to the feeding of the hungry,” he said. “We can’t just let them suffer.”
The new building will also have about 13,000 square feet of space; although Mountain Projects estimates it only needs about 10,000, Brown said the board may consider partnering with other nonprofits and rent the extra space out, citing the need to be more innovative in fundraising and providing services.
Davis said that she’s excited about the move, but in no rush; she’s hopeful to move in within the next year.