08/03/08 — College asks for funds to expand

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College asks for funds to expand

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 3, 2008 11:02 AM

Wayne County commissioners on Tuesday will be asked for tentative approval of a proposed $20 million capital improvement project at Wayne Community College.

Currently, there are no funds available for construction and the vote does not commit any funding. However, the board's approval is needed to initiate the planning process.

Each of the state's community colleges has received $90,000 from the North Carolina Community College System for the initial design of the No. 1 project identified in a college's long-range facilities master plan.

But in order to receive the funding, the county must first agree to support the new construction with operations and maintenance funds.

The estimated average additional annual costs to the county associated with the project would be $130,000.

WCC's proposed project includes a 41,459-square-foot two-story addition to the Pine (Allied Health and Public Safety) Building; renovations to the existing Pine Building; and construction of a 13,000-sq.-ft. supporting energy plant.

The new energy plant accounts for $5.8 million of the $20 million project cost.

The new building would include 25 offices, 19 classrooms, 13 laboratories, energy plant, observation room and conference room.

"It ($90,000) is strictly planning money," said Ken Ritt, WCC vice president for educational support services. "We have no indication of having funds (to build). It is just being ready."

Ritt said the college had used data from a county survey and from an on-campus survey to help put together a long-range plan.

That effort identified the college's growing Allied Health and Public Safety programs as the top priority. He called the project "very important. We really need to expand the facilities."

"We need to expand both of these programs," Ritt said. "I don't think anyone doubts the need for nursing, public safety and homeland security programs."

Allied health and public service areas are among the fastest-growing occupations in Wayne County with job growth projected to increase 25 percent over the next six years, said Bill Thompson, WCC associate vice president for institutional advancement.

WCC enrolls more than 1,500 students in allied health and public service-related fields with another 425 students enrolled in the Associate in Arts programs who plan to enter the nursing or dental programs.

No design yet exists for the project.

What the college has is a "footprint" in which college officials looked at the number of offices and classrooms needed to determine the square footage that would be required.

Once approved by commissioners, WCC will advertise for a designer. The last time the college placed such an advertisement it received more than 30 replies.

College officials and trustees will meet to select a designer who will then create a basic rendering and floor plan.

Ritt said it normally takes a full year to complete the design of a project the size of the one being considered at WCC.

"This will put us four months ahead," he said.

In his letter to commissioners concerning the project, county Manager Lee Smith noted that some colleges had not been prepared when a higher education bond was approved in 2000.

That was not the case for WCC, Ritt said.

He said the planning money being provided by the state is to help ensure colleges are ready should another bond be considered.

Overall, the health care and public services occupations in Wayne County are projected to grow from just under 8,000 jobs to 9,930 by 2013, Thompson said. The average annual earnings per worker is approximately $35,000.

Wayne County citizens are getting older, Thompson said. Currently 12 percent of the county population is 65 years old and older and that age group is expected to increase to 18 percent of the population by 2030, he said.

"Consequently, Wayne Community College must expand its health sciences program to meet shortages in the healthcare community, to meet demanding accreditation requirements and to meet the growing needs of an aging population," Thompson said. "Some shortages can be more quickly addressed by short-term training while others will require extensive two-year training programs like Associate Degree Nursing."

The projected annual job openings for registered nurses (who on average earn around $25 per hour), is estimated to be about 50 per year, he said. Projected annual job openings take into account replacements and new jobs.

WCC, in partnership with Wayne Memorial Hospital and a Kate B. Reynolds grant, was able to increase the enrollment of nursing students by eight per year to 82 in fall 2007 by hiring another nursing instructor, he said.

Thompson said that the space that is presently assigned to nursing does not allow for an increase in the number of students for the Associate Degree Program plus the Practical Nursing Program and advanced standing student groups.

"Added to this challenge is the requirement for changes in methods of instruction and simulation labs with enhanced technology that will require new and different laboratory space," he said.

Medical assisting, one of the top five fastest-growing occupations, has also grown from 5 to 44 students over the past 10 years, he said.

"Physicians' offices in Goldsboro are realizing the value of the medical assistant and the multi-skills that they perform," Thompson said. "Nurse aides, geriatric nurse aides, orderlies, attendants and pharmacy technicians are also projected to grow over the next six years. The growth of these programs is also hampered by teaching space, which limits the number of students that can be enrolled at any one time."