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Financing decisions finalized for SCC health building

An artist rendering shows how the new building (center) will fit into the existing campus. Donated graphic  An artist rendering shows how the new building (center) will fit into the existing campus. Donated graphic

Quarter-cent sales tax money in Jackson County will be available sooner and in greater quantities than previously planned due to a $2 million grant the county received for the Southwestern Community College Health Sciences Building and a decision to take out a 20-year loan for the project rather than a 15-year loan. 

“The EDA (Economic Development Administration) grant, what it basically did is instead of us having a conversation about how do we come up with an extra million out of the sales tax or cut the project, it’s made an extra million accessible to us,” said County Manager Don Adams in a December work session. 

The quarter-cent sales tax was adopted through a referendum vote in 2016, and the revenue it raises was earmarked for capital projects in the county school system as well as SCC. Under the original plan the SCC health building would be getting all of the sales tax money for the first several years before Jackson County Schools could have a piece of the pie. The grant will allow new projects to be funded sooner than originally anticipated. 

Commissioners also decided to finance the $10 million loan the county is taking out for the project over a 20-year term instead of a 15-year term. The 15-year term would have carried an interest rate of 3.67 percent while the 20-year term carries a 3.81 percent rate. Commissioners picked the higher rate because spreading the payments out over a longer period of time will free up an additional $200,000 per year. 

“I would definitely be in favor of doing the 20 years one if it’s that little difference (in interest rate),” Commissioner Mickey Luker said when Adams brought the issue up at the work session. “Is that what you recommend?”

“I think it would be,” responded Finance Director Darlene Fox. 

Commissioners passed an ordinance formalizing the financing plan during a Dec. 17 meeting. The project is expected to cost $20.68 million in total, with construction accounting for $17.66 million of that. Other costs include $1.55 million for design and oversight fees, $374,785 for engineering, $30,000 for administration and legal costs, $121,238 for AV and network costs and $941,300 for contingency. 

Those funds will be paid with a $10 million loan to be serviced through sales tax proceeds as well as using $5.4 million from Connect N.C. Bond money, $2 million from the EDA grant and $3.2 million from sales tax proceeds gleaned since the county began collecting the tax in 2016. 

To secure the loan, Jackson County needs to have some claim on the property in question. Therefore the county has leased the 0.885 acres where the building will be located for a term that will end 30 days after the final payment on the $10 million loan and no later than Dec. 31, 2040. The county will pay $10 for the lease, and SCC will conduct its educational functions as normal during the lease term.

The Michigan-based Christman Company, which has a regional office in Knoxville, Tennessee, will be constructing the building, which will house the college’s existing 14 health sciences programs as well as three new ones. Those programs are currently housed in The Balsam Center, which was built in the 1980s when SCC had only four health programs. 

Every year, SCC has more qualified students apply for its health programs than it has space to accommodate. In the first year following completion of the new building, the college will be able to admit 144 additional students to its 14 health programs and could increase health sciences enrollment by 288 in the third year once the three new programs are added. According to SCC President Don Tomas, nearly 90 percent of SCC graduates remain in Western North Carolina after graduation, meaning that the building will be a boon to the local economy as graduates go on to earn higher salaries than they otherwise would have. 

Construction is expected to begin in spring and to finish in 2021, with classes offered for the fall 2021 semester. 

SCC will post information and updates about the project online at www.southwesterncc.edu/newhealthsciencesbuilding.

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