JEFFERSON-Ashe County Commissioners approved the next major step in Wilkes Community College’s Ashe Campus expansion last week, providing $300,000 in funding the college needs to purchase land for the project.
It’s just the latest in a series of moves that will see Wilkes Community College greatly expand its local footprint with a project estimated to cost some $10 million in total.
Commissioners voted unanimously in January to contribute $6 million needed to expand the Ashe Campus, which is currently located behind Ashe County High School. Another $3 million of the project will be funded through the N.C. Connect Bond, which was passed in 2016, and an additional $1 million from the WCC Foundation will complete the project’s financial needs.
Since that time, the college has been negotiating with Ashe County Schools to purchase roughly three additional acres of land adjoining the Ashe Campus that is currently part of Ashe County High School, according to Chris Robinson, Vice President of Workforce Development and Community Education at WCC.
“We’ve been working with them for probably the last six months, in discussions with the board of education, trying to work out the details,” Robinson told commissioners on Nov. 6.
The new 30,000-square foot facility on this site will provide new instructional space and necessary office space for faculty and staff, according to Robinson, and the college will continue to operate its current space.
Robinson told commissioners the college had reached an agreement with the Ashe County Board of Education to pay some $300,000 for the three-acre tract of land, in addition to leasing a parking lot from the district over the next several decades.
“While that purchase price might seem a bit high, we won’t have the additional costs to get that ready like we would a raw piece of land,” Robinson said. “That would also allow the district to purchase and grade additional space that they’d be losing. We feel like this is the best location in the long term to maximize the dollars that we have for the citizens of Ashe County.”
Robinson asked commissioners to release a portion of the funding the county has allocated for the expansion to help the college meet state requirements that will be necessary to move forward with the effort.
Robinson said the college is next required to receive final approval of the project from the State Board of NC Community College System.
“One of the requirements for approval is that the college own the property,” Robinson said. “We can then transfer the property back to the county to hold for any loan transaction that may be used to fund the $6 million commitment, with a lease back to the college that terminates at the end of the loan period. Both transactions can be approved by the State Board during the same meeting if needed.”
Robinson did detail the college’s plans to set up an Early College High School, a joint project with Ashe County Schools, to launch next year.
“A s a side note, the college and the Board of Education are in the process of setting up an Early College High School on the Ashe Campus,” Robinson said. “This will allow up to 40 students annually to earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree free of charge. The school is expected to have an enrollment of 200 students when fully phased in over a five-year period, making it imperative to move ahead with the expansion as quickly as possible.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.