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New complex at Rowan-Cabarrus would include space for early college

SALISBURY — In a move that would address concerns raised by students, local leaders plan to include space for Rowan County Early College in a $45 million technology education complex at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

The complex is the subject of a bond referendum the college wants to place on the March 2020 ballot. County commissioners have already given preliminary support to the proposal, which would build a 105,000-square-foot facility by 2024 on the college’s Salisbury campus. Earlier this month, they approved resolutions saying they intend to file an application with the state Local Government Commission and that the project is necessary.

For final approval, voters would need to say “yes” in the bond referendum. And the Board of Elections says it needs the ballot language by mid-December.

During a meeting of the Rowan Education Collaborative group Wednesday, college President Carol Spalding told the Post that roughly $10 million of the $45 million could go toward a building that would, in part, house Rowan County Early College, addressing concerns that students have raised about mobile classrooms. More than once in the past year, students have spoken during public meetings about leaky ceilings, standing water, mold and structural weakness in their classrooms.

Students specifically advocated for a building with 14 large classrooms, two large science labs, a multipurpose room and office space.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Lynn Moody said the building will be more than a spot for Early College students to take classes.

Moody said officials are planning to build a three-floor facility that will have common space, Early College classrooms and classrooms for students taking dual-enrollment courses.

“This is going to be a true alignment of us having presence on the community college campus,” Moody said.

The building could be used for dual-enrollment students who need a place to work between classes or to take classes, too, she said.

Jonathan Chamberlain, chief of college environment for Rowan-Cabarrus, said certain elements of the students’ design were factored into plans but that the building concept is “very different” than a traditional high school. It’s not intended to re-create a traditional high school on the community college’s campus, Chamberlain said.

Moody also stressed that local leaders are still early in the planning phase and that designs are not final. Within the complex, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College hopes to provide facilities for high-tech jobs in fields that include robotics, virtual welding, advanced machining and automotive technology.

As an example of the programs, Spalding said automotive students wouldn’t simply be “beating against steel.” They would be learning about and working on electric and self-driving vehicle technology. The complex would also help Rowan-Cabarrus better serve a large demand for automotive classes, as there is currently space for 12 people but interest from 300 students in the Rowan-Salisbury school system, Moody said.

Spalding said the complex, in part, would help the college “build the workforce of the future.”

County government staff say the $45 million bond package, if passed, would require a property tax increase of 3 cents per $100 in value. That estimate is based on the current taxable property in Rowan, not any new or potential investment, and a 15-year payback period. During Wednesday’s meeting, County Manager Aaron Church compared that price to buying one small cup of coffee per week.

Pete Teague, special assistant to the president of Livingstone College, framed the bond package in another way.

“Every time another new industry moves here or one expands because of this, it increases the tax base. … The use of this money and what it builds and provides would help bring more business here because you will have more workforce-ready population,” Teague said. “So, we may not, each one, have to incur the tax increase to that extent over the full period.”

Spalding framed the complex still another way. Rather than a $45 million cost, it’s “an investment in the future of our community,” she said.

The complex would be the first building Rowan County has built at the North Campus in 42 years.

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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