Like Johnston County Schools, Johnston Community College has significant capital needs. Last week, the county Board of Commissioners approved a plan to use money from the last bond referendum to take care of $1.3 million in needs on the Smithfield college campus.
College president David Johnson brought some of the school’s manageable needs to commissioners. Johnson said the school has electrical problems, failing roofs, disintegrating parking lots and heating and cooling systems beyond their 30-year lifespans.
“One building has an electrical system that is a failure just waiting to happen,” Johnson said. “It would be devastating to the college when that happens. It’s going to happen, we just don’t know when it’s going to happen.”
Over the past eight years, the county has contributed a wide range of money for the school’s capital needs, from a couple of thousand in 2009 to the highest-ever contribution last year, when the county chipped in just more than half $500,000.
“At the college, I say whenever you have a problem come to me with a solution,” Johnson said. “If legal and feasible ... I propose we begin to take care of some of these urgent needs that we have by borrowing against the bond funds that we have already encumbered, up to $1.3 million. Then at the appropriate time, the county would work with us to restore those funds back into the bond so that we could complete the projects that are still on the books.”
JCC got $7 million from the 2014 bond referendum, but Johnson said $5.8 million is legally committed to specific projects but so far unused.
Johnson said those funds are stalled while the college’s projects are vetted and planned by the state construction office, a process that can take two years or more. Those projects should begin by 2018, but after the latest statewide bond, the construction office is swamped, Johnson said.
“The state construction office is just up to their eyeballs in projects, millions of dollars worth of projects across the state,” Johnson said.
County Manager Rick Hester noted that Johnston is toying with the idea of putting a bond on the ballot in 2018. Funds from that bond could be added back to the pot that’s being used to fund the $1.3 million in projects now.
“We’ve got the cash sitting on the the sidelines, we’re paying interest expense on it, so it’s time to use it,” board chairman Jeff Carver said.