The Transylvania Times -

BRCC Explains Campus Limits – Brevard, NC

 

Last updated 3/29/2021 at 1:51pm

As previously reported, the N.C. Department of Transportation is planning to build a roundabout adjacent to the BRCC campus in Brevard.

In the near future, Transylvania County will have two renovated high schools, thanks to the $68 million voter approved bond, but if local students go to the Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) campus in Brevard, they'll enter a former elementary school originally built in 1951.

BRCC President Laura Leatherwood noted this during a presentation last week to the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners.

The presentation included a review of the college's actions since the pandemic's impact began in March of last year and a proposed master plan for the 9-acre Brevard campus.

Commissioners had approved $20,000 for BRCC to hire an architect. Chad Roberson, with Clark Nexsen, the same company hired for the school bond project to renovate Brevard High School and Rosman Middle/High schools, assessed the BRCC Brevard campus.

The Brevard site has a "multi-campus designation," requiring the college to keep its full-time equivalency student enrollment at 330 and above to receive state funding for staffing and to be considered a "full-functioning campus," Leatherwood said.

The designation and funding means BRCC can offer associated degree programs.

Master Plan Options

Roberson said the master planning started with gathering feedback and information, plus a "visioning" process.

Takeaways from the visioning include being "flexible and adaptable" for changes in teaching and education; having integrated technology, green spaces and a student commons; providing a "college experience" and a "sense of community," while being modern and reflecting the Western North Carolina workforce.

In 1951, Straus Elementary School was built just off the Asheville Highway and an addition was built in 1966, encompassing 28,000 square feet in total.

In 2008, the Applied Technology Center was built on the campus, and a new classroom building was recently constructed adjacent to the Straus building.

Roberson said there are a "number of challenges" inside the former elementary school building, including a mechanical system that needs to be replaced very soon; an electrical system that is "maxed out;" water leaks; and classrooms that have size issues.

The technology center has problems, as well. The automotive repair area sits below classrooms, causing odor problems, and height limitations make it difficult to raise vehicles, Roberson said.

A proposed roundabout on Asheville Highway adjacent to the campus would also take away some of the campus' frontage, including removal of the college's electrical sig, hen said.

Options for the site include replacing the Straus building with a new building in the parking lot area.

The Straus building would be torn down after the new one is built, and the site could be used for green space or parking.

Another option is to build a two-story building beside the technology center.

The Straus building would again be torn down. A third option, though considered more unlikely, would be to construct a new building on the current Straus site, but this would mean temporarily closing down the program.

A new building would cost an estimated $28 million. It would take a year to design and another 18 months to construct.

Leatherwood said facilities "are more important than ever" to attracting students and for aligning with local economic development efforts.

For example, the current campus can't meet "bio-technology needs," she said.

Commissioner Comments

Commissioner Larry Chapman said BRCC programming is "closely related" with the Transylvania County Schools.

He asked if the study looked at other locations for a new campus.

Leatherwood said an alternative site was never suggested to BRCC. The study was to solely focus on the current campus.

Chapman asked if there was any discussion during the school bond process to include BRCC. Roberson said no.

Chapman said it would have been an "opportunity for collaboration," with more local students going to BRCC, instead of spending another $28 million in addition to the $68 million. County Manager Jaime Laughter said that after the school bond was approved in 2018, she and Leatherwood, former Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins and School Superintendent Jeff McDaris met to discuss combining the projects for "efficiencies."

The biggest objections, from McDaris, involved security at the site and concerns about children and adults being on a campus together.

Guice agreed with Chapman.

He said that just because decisions have been made it doesn't mean, "we can't pause and take a look at what is best for our community."

Guice, noting COVID-19's impact, said, "things have changed," including in education.

"(I) think it would be wrong if we didn't take some time, not only to have the discussion, (but be) bold enough to say we want to pause for a moment and have those discussions and take those into consideration," he said. "Why can we not have a campus, where we have a beautiful high school that meets the needs of our students, and, fairly close, if not on the same campus, have a community college system?"

Superintendent McDaris

McDaris was contacted for comment about why BRCC was not involved in the school bond project.

"BRCC was not included in the 2018 bond referendum because the bond was for identified needs at both high schools and a middle school for Transylvania County Schools (TCS)," he said. "The bond referendum was based on a facility study started in 2015 and discussed very frequently from that point forward. BRCC is a separate entity and conducts its own facilities studies. We do not fund nor manage BRCC operations or facilities. As a separate entity, BRCC requests funding from the county and makes education decisions separate from TCS. They serve a completely different clientele – that includes adults of all ages.

"I am not aware of any commissioners asking for BRCC to be included in or as part of the original bond referendum, and BRCC did not ask to be included in a county-wide bond referendum. Of course, if there had been a larger bond referendum that included facilities for BRCC, it would have required a much larger amount than the $68 million needed for Brevard and Rosman high schools and Rosman Middle School."

Annual Report

Leatherwood said the past 12 months for BRCC have been "historic." In March 2020, she said, BRCC pivoted to online learning, calling it a "Herculean effort." The college, she said, never closed because the community counted on it to produce paramedics, nurses and nurse aides, law enforcement officers and others.

BRCC received $1.4 million from the federal CAREs act, with 50 percent used for students struggling during the pandemic. The rest was used to improve the college's "technical infrastructure" for virtual learning. Another $214,000 in state funds was received for workforce training and $50,000 was raised through the college's foundation for emergency aid – transportation and child care – for students. BRCC's Small Business Center also designed the R3 (Reboot, Recover, Rebuild) program, which was "replicated" across the state, to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19, Leatherwood said.

Blue Ridge Community College provided this map of the Brevard campus. Note: The map doesn't include the recently constructed 859-square-foot classroom building, which sits to the right of the Straus Building.

Also, during the past 12 months, the new classroom building, thanks to $400,000 in state funding, was built on the Brevard campus, and the college received $2 million, its single largest gift from a private donor. Despite the pandemic, BRCC saw its largest enrollment increase in the past 10 years during the summer. BRCC, Leatherwood said, will continue to "strengthen" partnerships with the school system and grow its career and college program. The college wants every high school student to graduate with college credit, Leatherwood said.

Other activities included corporate and customized training with the local industry, impacting 101 county students and 12 businesses; and small business counseling for 73 businesses.

In it budget request for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which begins July 1, the Brevard campus is requesting $196,455 for capital expenses and $578,735 for operating costs.

 
 

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