The basic issue is safety. That’s it, plain and simple.
While one Jackson County commissioner has questioned the need for R-5000, a new access road for Southwestern Community College’s Jackson Campus, the board of trustees and I contend that not only is there a driving need, it accelerates daily.
From a single building in 1964, the Jackson Campus has expanded to six buildings, plus the new Early College facility built last summer. The same road that served a few dozen students back in 1964 now serves a soaring enrollment of 3,668 college students, plus faculty and staff. Add to that the 155 high-schoolers at the Early College.
With only one way in and out for the entire campus, a new road is needed not just to alleviate congestion, but to mainly ensure safety. During an emergency or the need for quick evacuation, a single road is a handicap.
Back in 1994, 30 years after the campus opened, the need for a new road was included in the SCC Master Plan. Developed by Moore and Associates of Asheville, the plan suggested the college consider other points of access to campus since there is only one way in and out. A possible area, they suggested, was from N.C. 107, with the proper right-of-way into the back property at its most southeast point.
That’s 17 years ago. Our board realized then, even before 9/11 or incidences like Virginia Tech, that we needed to protect the safety of our students.
In the 1990s the college began looking at alternatives. On July 28, 1998, then-President Cecil Groves presented aerial photos of the SCC campus to the board and discussed the development of a potential direct access road to N.C. 107. Since the college is built on a hillside, college officials decided the best alternative would be a loop road around campus with direct access to NC 107. In addition to providing safety for campus, it would help eliminate congestion at the N.C. 107 and N.C. 116 intersection.
On Feb. 12, 1999, the SCC Board of Trustees approved a plan of property acquisition, as outlined within the revised college master plan. Maps and aerial shots of a proposed route at the back of campus linking to N.C. 107 were included in that 1999 revised master plan. On Oct, 15, 1999, the State Board of Community Colleges approved SCC’s property acquisition plan, including the N.C. 107 access plan for a second means of access to the campus.
Following the state board approval, in 2000 we contacted various agencies outlining the college’s property acquisition plans and the N.C. 107 access road. Among these were David Gourley, real property agent, State Property Office; Wayne McDevitt, secretary, N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources; Ron Watson, division engineer, N.C. Department of Transportation; and Jay Denton, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
It has taken the college 10 years to acquire the three parcels of property necessary to build the road. During those 10 years the agencies involved were kept informed of our plans and progress. Also during those 10 years the college secured legislative action and funding to relocate the N.C. Division of Forestry offices. A planning grant was received in fiscal year 2007-08, with a construction allocation awarded fiscal year 2008-09.
I have been involved with this project since day one and I can tell you it’s been a slow, methodical process, certainly not fast-tracked at all.
Dr. Groves, now president emeritus, said it well in this brief statement, “What we had was an overwhelming need, but with 10 years of tireless planning we developed a workable solution, along with the funding to fix the problem.”
Just down the road Smoky Mountain High School, situated on a hillside with a single road in and out, faced a similar situation. DOT funds were secured to build a second road for the high school. The high school students on our campus, as well as our college students, deserve the same safety factor. We have tried not to burden our commissioners and local taxpayers, and that’s why we worked diligently to secure DOT funding for SCC’s new road.
(George Stanley is the SCC Project Manager for this project.)