An architect says Johnston Community College’s Tart Building needs $16.6 million in repairs and renovations.
The Paul A. Johnson Auditorium has serious safety concerns, and the building needs a new roof and new internal systems, including heating and air, electrical, plumbing and fire protection, said Kristen Hess, president of HH Architecture of Raleigh.
Because those needs are so great, Hess recommends a complete overhaul that would restore the building to like-new condition, bring it up to modern standards and add square footage to cramped areas.
The work would take 18 months if JCC closed the building during construction, Hess said, or the college could do the work in three phases to avoid a shutdown. Phasing the construction would add six to 12 months to the project. About 120,000 people use the building each year.
Hess’s findings came as a surprise to JCC’s trustees, who held a joint meeting April 6 with Johnston County Commissioners to allow the architect to break the news. The two boards met in the multipurpose room of the Tart Building, which opened in 1989 at the heart of JCC’s Smithfield campus.
JCC hired Hess to update its master building plan for the first time in seven years, and the Tart Building is just the first area her team has studied. Funding for Hess’ work came from the $7 million bond issue Johnston voters approved in 2013. The county issued the first $500,000 of debt for JCC late last year, and the college will get its remaining money in about a year. JCC has another $400,000 on hand for renovations.
All of that money would not cover even half of the Tart project, and Hess said her team will certainly find other needs on campus before completing its study at the end of August. For instance, Hess said other buildings will require repairs, the parking lots need repaving, and the college needs new infrastructure such as fiber.
“There’s whole-campus need here,” she said. “The Tart Building starts out as the highest priority need because of safety … but please don’t lose sight of the fact that there are so many needs, just based on the age of the buildings.”
JCC has about 450,000 square feet of buildings, and the Tart Building accounts for just 10 percent of that. The average age of a square foot of space at JCC is about 20 years.
The most pressing safety concerns, Hess said, are in the auditorium, where all of the stage equipment – the ropes and rigging, catwalks, ladders and lighting – needs replacing.
“These things are old, and they move up and down all the time, and there’s a fear that they’re going to break and someone’s going to get hurt,” she said.
The auditorium also needs new seating, exit lighting and features to make it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Hess said.
If the county decides to go with Hess’ plan, Commissioner Allen Mims said it might be three or four years before Johnston could borrow enough money. Mims asked Hess whether the auditorium could remain open until that time, and she said that would make her nervous.
“That part frightens me a little bit,” Hess said. “I don’t know if it’s a matter of rescheduling performances and recitals to another venue and just shutting the auditorium down.”
Everyone who spoke at the meeting agreed the community values the Tart Building and the county needs to find a way to keep it open.
The auditorium provides space for community events, and in doing so, it gives many people their only impression of what JCC has to offer, said DeVan Barbour IV, one of JCC’s trustees.
Johnston needs to renovate the Tart Building so “when people walk into JCC, they don’t think: ‘Well, golly, it’s old, and it’s falling down, and I can only imagine what the classrooms look like. Let me see if Wake Tech has this program,’” he said.