Johnston Community College will close the Tart Building in June for repairs, and the school has already stopped taking reservations for use of the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium.
The decision came as JCC continues to work with HH Architecture of Raleigh to update its master building plan for the first time in seven years. In April, the firm recommended a $16.6 million overhaul of Tart to address serious safety concerns and aging infrastructure. HH Architecture should complete its study of needs on the entire campus by September.
For now, JCC President David Johnson said, the college decided to go ahead and fix some of the most pressing needs in the Tart Building over the summer. The work will shutdown Tart for four to six months, Johnson said. Depending on what the master building plan ultimately recommends, JCC might have to keep Tart closed much longer for more extensive repairs.
“We are not closing the Tart Building forever; we don’t want any of those kind of rumors to start,” Johnson said. “But we are closing it for safety concerns so that we can do some limited repairs to sort of give it a Band-Aid.”
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Tart lies at the heart of JCC’s Smithfield campus, and Johnson said the school hopes to have the building open in time for next school year. In case that proves impossible, the college has already made arrangements to relocate all of the classes and programs that usually meet in Tart. That included finding space elsewhere for some regular classes, the math lab and the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Center.
“That was a challenge because we’re already in desperate need of additional classrooms,” Johnson said. Some of the science and math instruction will move into space formerly used by JCC’s fine arts degree programs, which the school stopped offering last fall, Johnson said.
The work over the summer will involve patching the Tart Building’s roof in order to eliminate concerns of mold, mildew and further rusting of internal infrastructure. The college is in the process of bidding that work now, Johnson said, and the scope of the project could grow once repairmen evaluate the roof.
‘A whole-campus need’
In 2013, voters approved $7 million of bonds for JCC, and the college will get most of that money in the first half of next year. In order to prioritize spending, the college used some of its money to hire HH Architecture for an updated master building plan.
The company began its study by looking at Tart, and it came back with a recommendation to spend $16.6 million – more than twice the amount voters approved for the entire JCC campus – to basically turn it back into a brand-new building. That news shocked JCC’s trustees, and they held an April joint meeting with Johnston County Commissioners to discuss the situation.
At that gathering, HH Architecture President Kristen Hess said Tart needs a new roof and new internal systems, including heating and air, electrical, plumbing and fire protection. Hess’ main safety concerns are in the auditorium, where she said equipment had aged to the point of becoming dangerous. Because of the extent of the need, Hess recommended a complete overhaul that would also bring Tart up to modern standards, give it a facelift and add square footage to cramped areas. Hess estimated construction would to take 1.5 to 2.5 years, depending on whether the building remained open during construction.
However, Hess also warned the trustees and commissioners not to forget that JCC has “a whole-campus need.” The Tart Building will likely remain the highest priority because of its safety concerns, Hess said, but the master building plan will likely identify many more areas that need fixing at JCC.
The Tart Building opened in 1989, and its 1,000-seat auditorium is the largest venue of its kind in Johnston County. The facility hosts many community events, Johnson said, and JCC might need to call upon the public to help pay for its repair.
“It is probably the primary venue by which the college meets the public on a regular basis,” Johnson said. “It was built with a lot of community support, and we may in fact need community support to maintain it in the future.”