A statewide bond package that would provide funding to replace an outdated science laboratory facility at Western Carolina University received support from student leaders on both sides of the political aisle Monday, Feb. 29.
Representatives of WCU’s College Republicans and College Democrats and WCU Student Government Association President Hank Henderson encouraged their fellow students to vote for the Connect NC bond proposal during the March 15 state primary elections.
The student leaders joined WCU Chancellor David Belcher for a campus forum about the bond proposal. About 100 students, faculty, staff and members of the surrounding community gathered for the event, held in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center.
A replacement for WCU’s 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building is among the projects that would be funded by the $2 billion Connect NC bond proposal. The initiative also includes funding for other University of North Carolina system institutions, the North Carolina Community College System, the state park system, the Department of Agriculture, the North Carolina Zoo and the National Guard, and to help local governments pay for water and sewer infrastructure initiatives.
Henderson asked his fellow WCU students to keep in mind those who will follow in their collegiate footsteps in the near future, as they would be the ones to benefit from passage of the bond proposal.
“This is one of the rare and great opportunities we have to pay it forward to the future students of Western Carolina,” he said. “We don’t often as students get the opportunity to make a tangible impact on this campus that will really affect the future of the university. This is a great opportunity by just going out and simply voting. All it takes is a little bit of time.”
Henderson also encouraged students to share information about the bond package with their friends and family members via social media.
Isaac Herrin, chair of WCU’s College Republicans organization, told the crowd that College Republicans across North Carolina are “overwhelmingly” in favor of the bond proposal, which has broad bipartisan support.
“We are for the bond, and we are for everything about it,” Herrin said. “This is for more than just Western North Carolina. This can help every citizen of the entire state of North Carolina. They’re going to be affected in some way by this bond.”
For example, Herrin reminded the crowd that Southwestern Community College, just a few miles down N.C. Highway 107, would receive more than $7 million for repair and renovations, if the bond issue is approved.
Fiona Buchanan, vice president of WCU’s College Democrats, discussed the many ways that potential beneficiaries of the proposed bond package have touched her life – from a grandfather who served in the N.C. National Guard to her mother returning to community college to earn her associate degree, and from childhood visits to state parks and the North Carolina Zoo to her current role as a student in the UNC system.
“All of these facilities are affected by the Connect NC bond,” Buchanan said. “Every North Carolinian has a similar story. We have connections all over the state, with all types of family members, friends, acquaintances and business partners who will be affected by this. Improvements and conservation of public facilities are imperative for the foundation and progress of North Carolina.”
Belcher said approval of the bond package would not result in any tax increases and would allow the state’s strong credit ratings to remain unaffected while providing $1.3 billion toward construction and renovation projects at the 17 UNC system institutions and the 58 community colleges.
WCU’s Natural Sciences Building needs to be replaced so that the university can provide more graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields to meet growing regional workforce demands in WNC in health care, high-tech manufacturing and agricultural and natural products development, he said.
When the current science facility was built, WCU had only 15 nursing majors and no engineering majors; today, the university has roughly 2,300 students majoring in nursing and other health and human science programs, and almost 600 in technology and engineering programs, he said.
The university has no other source of funding to replace the Natural Sciences Building and, if the bond proposal fails, will have to look at setting caps on many of its science, technology and health sciences programs, Belcher said.