Chancellor Belcher discusses bond referendum’s impact on WCU

Chancellor David Belcher speaks at the educational forum. Photo credit: Haley Smith.

Chancellor David Belcher speaks at the educational forum. Photo credit: Haley Smith.

Chancellor David Belcher held an educational forum on Feb. 29 discussing the Connect N.C. bond referendum and answering questions from Western Carolina University students and faculty.

Voters will be given the opportunity to vote on the bond during North Carolina’s primary election on March 15. Whether or not the bond is passed will make a significant impact on the state’s future.

The referendum will fund renovation and improvement projects across the state. With historically low interest rates, the bond initiative will allow North Carolina to fund “50-year assets with 20-year financing” according to the Connect N.C. website.

The $2 billion bond initiative will allocate $980 million for construction and renovation projects at colleges and universities across the state. WCU will receive $110 million to fund a new Natural Sciences building – the largest project in the entire bond.

The state park system, the Department of Agriculture, the North Carolina Zoo and the National Guard are some of the other organizations that will benefit from this bond.

According to Belcher, in the 16 years since voters approved the last North Carolina bond, the state has gained 2 million people. That’s a 25 percent increase in population. As the ninth most populated state in the nation, the need for development and renovation has become a necessity.

“It is like moving the state of Nebraska into North Carolina,” said Belcher.

Although the bond will increase North Carolina’s debt by $2 billion, taxes will not be raised to compensate for it.

“It’s hard to understand, because it’s so complex, that we’re borrowing money but we won’t have to raise taxes,” said Belcher. “Our state-supported debt will never be higher than it was last year.”

Aside from much-needed improvement projects throughout the state, the bond will offer WCU a solution to its ever-increasing student population.

WCU’s need for a new Natural Sciences building is blatantly obvious to most students, especially those enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M) programs.

Most of the S.T.E.M program students are required to take chemistry, biology and physics. These are the courses taught in the Natural Sciences building.

Because of the overwhelming growth in these programs, WCU is running out of space for students and staff.

The current Natural Sciences building was constructed in the 1970s. Photo credit: Haley Smith

The current Natural Sciences building was constructed in the 1970s. Photo credit: Haley Smith

“We’re training 4,000 more students each year than this building is designed to service,” said Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Richard Starnes.

Due to the limited capacity of the current Natural Sciences building, students are struggling to enroll in existing courses. WCU is unable to offer the amount of course sections needed to accommodate these students.

Along with a limited amount of space, the Natural Sciences building has a variety of maintenance and structural issues.

A glass plumbing system has led to raw sewage leaking into the basement where faculty offices are located. Other problems include the vibration of the building caused by the running of the air conditioning, which limits the use of sensitive lab equipment.

A new Natural Sciences building is necessary to accommodate the growth and continuation of S.T.E.M programs at WCU.

“There is no backup plan,” said Belcher. “We will end up having to cap the nursing and engineering majors [if the bond is not passed.]”

In order for WCU to benefit from the bond referendum, North Carolina voters will need to approve it during the primary election on March 15.

WCU is going to be offering a shuttle service from A.K. Hinds University Center to the polling location according to Center for Service Learning Director, Lane Perry. The shuttle will run during early voting on March 9-10 from 3-6 p.m. and on March 15 from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Over 500 WCU students have registered to vote since Jan. 15, according to Perry.

The following video is from Belcher’s educational forum. The audio is from Bradley Lucore’s interview with Belcher. An extended version of the audio will air on Power 90.5 next week.


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