Chancellors of the Triangle’s three campuses are stumping for the bond referendum on March 15, when North Carolina voters will decide whether the state should borrow $2 billion for construction.
Half of the Connect NC bonds would be spent on building projects across the University of North Carolina system. The rest would go to community colleges, water and sewer projects, state parks and facilities for agriculture, public safety and the National Guard.
University leaders are making their case for the bonds, saying that the borrowing won’t require a tax increase because the state’s overall indebtedness is on the decline. On Monday, N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt met with editors and reporters at The News & Observer to discuss the bonds.
If voters say yes, NCCU would get $30 million toward a business school. NCSU would get $75 million for an engineering building and $85 million for a plant sciences facility. UNC-Chapel Hill would get $68 million toward a new medical school building. Each campus would still have to raise private money to supplement any public spending on the projects.
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The chancellors described current facilities that are 50 or 60 years old and inadequate for education and technology today.
Saunders-White said NCCU’s business school could grow to serve 1,200 students but can accommodate only 900 now. The university wants to connect its business students with a growing entrepreneurial culture in Durham and the Triangle, Saunders-White said.
“That is what the bond is really all about – building the economic fabric of our great state,” she said.
Woodson said the engineering building would complete NCSU’s 10,000-student engineering college to the Centennial Campus. A plant sciences building will help NCSU researchers keep up with North Carolina’s agricultural industry, which employs 17 percent of the state’s workforce. The Triangle employs 2,000 plant sciences researchers at four biotechnology companies.
“Building this plant sciences research center on Centennial Campus will ensure that N.C. State continues to drive the agriculture economy of the state forward and support the biotechnology economy of the region,” Woodson said.
The leaders said constructing four new buildings for Triangle campuses won’t change what the chancellors described as a large backlog of renovation and repairs. Folt said UNC has $1 billion in building needs; Woodson said deferred maintenance at NCSU is $650 million.
A group called NC Against the Bond started an online petition to oppose the referendum. Its website shows a small child and a piggy bank, with the slogan, “Out of control spending is robbing from our children’s future.”
The group’s site warns that a bond is not free money, but “a loan taken out with hefty interest that is left to the next generation to pay without their consent.”
Fifteen years ago, voters overwhelmingly passed a $3.1 billion bond referendum for construction across UNC and community college system. At that point, it was a largest bond referendum in U.S. history.
Folt said she was very aware of the 2000 bonds when she was at Dartmouth College, before she came to UNC. When she introduced Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Aziz Sancar, last year, the event was held at a science building funded by that bond issue.
“It changed this place,” Folt said.