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September 23, 2017

One-fourth of penny referendum could help SCC, JCPS address in fracture needs

A fraction of a penny could make an enormous difference in allowing Southwestern Community College and Jackson County Public Schools to address their major infracture needs for the foreseeable future.

If passed, the one-fourth of a penny referendum that will be on the June 7 ballot in Jackson County would provide capital to let SCC begin tackling the nearly $32 million in construction, renovation and repair pojects identified by the college’s recent Jackson County master plan.

It would also allow JCPS to bridge the gap between the $22 million worth of essential needs and the recent $9 million infusion from Jackson County Commissioners.

The provision enjoys bipartisan support from all current commissioners, who have pledged to put all revenue generated by the referendum toward education in Jackson County. The measure would not apply to unprepared food or gasoline.

“SCC and the public schools have critical needs due to aging buildings and a growing population,” said Brian McMahan, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. “This referendum represents the most efficient way for us to help address our county’s essential education needs by allowing everyone – even those who visit Jackson County – to contribute without raising property taxes on our citizens. Even though it’s a very tiny tax increase, it will generate roughly $1.2 million annually that will stay right here and support education in Jackson County.”

Among the top priorities in SCC’s master plan is a possible new health sciences building, aimed at preparing the next generation of healthcare workers in the college’s service area.

This year, SCC had to turn down 563 health sciences applicants from their desired program of study due to a lack of training space and resources. SCC officials estimate they could potentially accept 100 more nursing students within six years of the new building’s completion to help meet what the N.C. Department of Commerce projects will be a 31.9 percent increase in more nurses statewide by 2022.

“The Balsam Center was built in 1987 to accommodate four heath sciences programs,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC’s president. “We now have 14 health sciences programs in that same building. Our faculty and staff are doing an amazing job with the space we have, but we desperately need more room in order to accommodate the growth of our college and our region.”

Other potential projects that the measure could fund at SCC are renovation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education and health sciences classrooms and labs in the Balsam Center as well as repair and renovation of Oaks Hall, which is 45 years old and primarily houses classrooms and labs.

For the county’s public schools, a critical needs priority capital plan and long-range master plan has identified a number of potential projects including roof repair, HVAC system replacements and water supply upgrades.

The schools’ long-range plan includes a number of facility upgrades including: softball/baseball field enhancements with lighting at Smoky Mountain High, a new track at Smoky Mountain High and improvements of safety and aesthetic issues at the entrance to Blue Ridge School.

“We are grateful to the Jackson County Commissioners for working on solutions to fund our critical needs,” said Dr. Mike Murray, superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools. “We are excited about the opportunity to bring about even more progress through this referendum.”

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