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SCC’s health building aims for fall groundbreaking

Southwestern Community College is planning for a new $20 million health sciences building. Donated rendering Southwestern Community College is planning for a new $20 million health sciences building. Donated rendering

Southwestern Community College is moving forward with plans for a $20 million health sciences building, having accepted applications from 11 contracting firms seeking to become prequalified to submit a bid for the project. 

An application from each firm was reviewed and scored using a system established by state policy, with nine of the 11 earning the minimum 80 points out of 100 required to pre-qualify as a bidder once the Board of Trustees puts out a request for proposals. Of the nine pre-qualified firms, three are located in Western North Carolina — Vannoy Construction is the most local, headquartered in Sylva; Asheville-based American South General Contractors and Flat Rock-based Cooper Construction are also on the list. 

While the project’s timeline is still tentative, SCC expects to bid the project in the next couple of months and to open those bids in the fall. Ground would likely break shortly thereafter, with construction taking about two years, putting the building’s completion date around fall 2020. LS3P’s original pitch to trustees in 2016 had included an initial goal to finish the project by June 2019. 

In an Aug. 14 county commissioners work session, County Manager Don Adams told commissioners that the project was delayed because SCC had to wait on the outcome of a $2 million grant it had applied for with the county before opening bids.

The health sciences building has been under discussion since 2016, when SCC completed a master plan that listed the health building — then estimated to cost $16.3 million — as its top priority. The existing health building was built to house four programs, but SCC now runs 14 health sciences programs. With more space, the college believes it could accept 100 more qualified students each year without hiring more instructors, bringing an additional $500,000 in annual revenue. 

County commissioners responded to the ask by putting a referendum question on the June 2016 ballot asking voters to approve an additional quarter-cent sales tax in Jackson County, the proceeds of which would fund education-related capital projects. The health sciences building would be at the front of the line for funding, with Jackson County Schools later getting a slice. About two-thirds of voters — 63.5 percent — voted in favor of the tax increase. The second-primary ballot that housed the question drew only 11.1 percent of the county’s registered voters to the polls, substantially less than the 67 percent of Jackson County voters who turned out in the November 2016 elections but well above the 7.7 percent turnout recorded statewide during the June primary. 

Later in 2016, SCC selected Charleston, South Carolina-based LS3P Associates Limited to design the building from a field of four contenders. SCC also engaged the firm to construct a new maintenance building and renovate the Summit Building. 

Initial construction will be fueled by $5.4 million from the Connect N.C. Bond, a referendum North Carolina voters approved in March 2016. The remainder will be funded through the quarter-cent sales tax approved in 2016, with the county taking out a $10 million loan to cover the cost up front. The county and SCC have also applied for a $2 million grant but don’t yet know whether it will be approved. 

In a special-called meeting Wednesday, Aug. 7, trustees took a unanimous vote that paved the way for construction. The board voted to lease the 0.885 acres that will house the new building to the Jackson County Commissioners, which will be the entity taking out the loan. 

“The property would be transferred back to SCC upon payoff of the note,” SCC President Don Tomas told the board. “Basically Jackson County wants to use that property for the collateral to get their loan.”

The property in question is located just northwest of the Burrell Building and north of Founders Hall on land that is currently occupied by grass and a small parking lot. 

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