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Bioscience Building Boom at Stake in March Bond Vote


  • $2 billion state bond referendum on March 15 ballot
  • Connect NC bond would invest in STEM infrastructure
  • Funding for new construction and renovations on all 17 campuses

By Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer

Architect's rendering of the proposed $154 million NCSU plant sciences research complex, part of the planned $2 billion state bond referendum to be decided by NC voters as part of the March 15 primary election. -- Courtesy of NCSU

North Carolina voters will not only cast ballots for their favorite presidential candidate in the March 15 primary election. They will also decide a $2 billion state bond referendum that has long-term implications for North Carolina’s life science community.

A majority vote in favor of the bond package would fund nearly $1 billion in new construction and building renovations on all 17 campuses within the University of North Carolina system. The state’s Community College System also would receive $350 million for construction and renovations at its 58 campuses.

Most of those buildings house – or would house – science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs that conduct research and prepare students for careers in the biosciences.

“We’re excited about the STEM portions,” said Sam Taylor, president of the N.C. Biosciences Organization (NCBIO), the trade association for the state’s life science community. “We think that they will contribute to life science education and the quality of our workforce.”

“We know that the community colleges have been a strong partner to the (life science) industry over the years in providing customized training to the industry,” Taylor said. “These funds appear to provide support for continuing capacity of that sort.”

The community college investments would range from $2 million to $12 million at each campus and would average just over $6 million per campus, based on a formula set by the Office of State Budget and Management. Each campus would largely determine its own capital projects, and local county funding would be required to supplement the state’s investments.

While two-thirds of the proceeds from the new bond, or $1.33 billion, would go to state universities and community colleges, the balance – $670 million – would fund capital projects for agriculture, water and sewer systems, state parks and public safety.

Backers of the bipartisan bond campaign, branded as Connect N.C., say these and other public infrastructure improvements in 76 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are important to the state’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.

It has been 16 years since the state last issued a similar bond, a $3.1 billion package for higher education, in November 2000. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s population has grown by 2 million people, placing greater demands on the state’s universities, community colleges and other infrastructure.

“Investments in STEM infrastructure, such as those proposed by the Connect N.C. bond, boost North Carolina’s ability to remain a global life science leader,” said Bill Bullock, senior vice president for economic development and statewide operations at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “North Carolina’s universities and colleges are the centerpiece for innovation and education that drive the state’s ability to create and attract life science jobs.  As one of the state’s major growth engines, life sciences contribute nearly $73 billion in annual economic activity each year.” 

No tax increases would be needed to finance the bond, thanks to historically low bond interest rates and the state’s strong revenue growth and ample debt-service capacity.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has said the bond would allow the state to “pay for 50-year assets with 20-year financing.”

Several university projects that would be funded by a successful bond vote stand out for their potential impact on life science research, education and business collaboration. Here's a breakdown of the spending plans for each campus.

North Carolina State University

NCSU would receive $85 million for a new plant sciences initiative. Scientists from multiple disciplines would perform basic and applied research aimed at increasing crop yields, diversifying nutrition, improving sustainability and extending growing seasons.

The initiative would be a partnership with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and its 18 research stations across the state.

More than 30 commodity groups, foundations, farm credit organizations and other agricultural groups have provided financial support for the research and initial planning of the initiative, said Richard Campbell, chief communications officer for NCSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

A new plant sciences research complex, to be built on NCSU’s Centennial Campus at a projected cost of $154 million, would house the initiative. It would include faculty labs and offices; seminar and classroom space; an atrium collaborative space; a plant-processing laboratory to be integrated with the Golden Leaf Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center; and leasable space including corporate partner lab suites, start-up company suites and a 30,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse.

NCSU would also receive $75 million for a new engineering building that would encompass more than 100 classrooms and laboratories for research and education in biomanufacturing, health systems engineering, environmental engineering and other fields.

East Carolina University

ECU in Greenville would receive $90 million for a new life sciences and biotech building.

The 150,000-square-foot building would be the new home of the biology department and the biomedical/bioprocess engineering department. It would also house the new Center of Excellence for Pharmaceutical Development Manufacturing, a joint effort of ECU, Pitt Community College and local pharmaceutical companies to build a pipeline for pharmaceutical workers.

"Once realized, this new building will be home to collaborative, team-based research and learning that could be game-changing for us with major applications in biochemistry and pharmaceuticals, bioprocess engineering and manufacturing, and the biomedical fields,” said William Downs, dean of ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. “The resulting interactions should contribute directly to regional economic development, and they would position East Carolina graduates to secure the high-paying, high-impact jobs that the United States must fill if it is to retain its preeminence in science and technology."

Western Carolina University

WCU in Cullowhee would get $110 million to replace its outdated Natural Sciences Building.

When the current facility was built, WCU had only 15 nursing majors and no engineering majors. Today it has roughly 2,300 students majoring in nursing and other health and human science programs, and almost 600 in technology and engineering programs. Another 500 students are enrolled in biological and physical science programs.

The University of North Carolina Greensboro

UNCG would get $105 million for a new Nursing and STEM instruction building.

The new facility, a replacement for the aging McIver building, would increase capacity to graduate more students in science and health care fields and help ensure pre-service clinical preparation. UNCG said its biology labs are operating at 160 percent of the recommended use, and its School of Nursing is turning away 140 to 150 qualified applicants each year, due to space constraints. The new building would provide modern flexible lab and classroom space for nursing, biology, chemistry and the health sciences.

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

NCA&T in Greensboro would get $90 million for a new Engineering Research and Innovation Complex.

The interdisciplinary facility would provide space and resources for research, teaching and community engagement, helping attract STEM students and faculty. NCA&T is the nation’s No. 1 producer of African American and African American women engineers.

The University of North Carolina Charlotte

UNCC would get $90 million for a new sciences building.

Enrollment at the university has grown by 142 percent since the current Burson Science Building was built in 1985 for 50 fume hoods, used in chemistry labs. It now has 205 fume hoods with no space left to expand.

Appalachian State University

ASU in Boone would receive $70 million for a new building for its Beaver College of Health Sciences.

The number of students taking classes in the college has doubled since 2008, and departments in the college are scattered in numerous locations throughout the campus.  The new building would consolidate program areas in the college, including nursing, social work, nutrition, and health and exercise science. The building complex would be constructed in association with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, which has donated the land for the building site.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC-CH would get $68 million to replace the School of Medicine’s outdated medical-education building, Berryhill Hall.

“Since Berryhill Hall was dedicated in 1970, medical education has changed dramatically,” said William Roper, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the School of Medicine. “It has become more active, more self-directed, more collaborative – and more driven by technology. Carolina needs a medical education building that meets 21st century instructional needs.”

The University of North Carolina Wilmington

UNCW would get $66 million for a new building to house its College of Health and Human Services.

The 165,000-square-foot facility would house academic programs in health and applied human sciences, nursing, clinical research and social work. The university says enrollment in the college has grown 135 percent since its establishment in 2010.

The North Carolina School of Science and Math

NCCSM in Durham would receive $58 million to build a western campus on state-owned land in Burke County, between Hickory and Asheville.  

“A second campus . . . allows us to meet the needs of more talented young North Carolinians who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” said Chancellor Todd Roberts. “Each year we turn away qualified student applicants to our residential program in Durham because of our fixed capacity for 680 students between the two class years, juniors and seniors. Between our residential, online, and interactive videoconferencing programs, we’ve set a goal of reaching one million students and 100,000 teachers in North Carolina by 2017.”

Winston-Salem State University

WSSU would get $50 million for a new Sciences Building.

The 100,000-square-foot building would feature laboratory and learning spaces for multiple academic programs across the sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics and health sciences. The building would also house the university’s biomedical research infrastructure center, bringing all science laboratories within close proximity and increasing faculty and student collaboration.

Fayetteville State University

FSU would receive $10 million to renovate its 30-year-old Lyons Science Building.

The 89,000-square-foot building houses the departments of chemistry, geology, biology, geography, history and government. Renovations would upgrade technology, equipment and furnishings, including those in the nanotechnology lab, spectroscopy lab, planetarium and wet labs.

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, North Carolina Central University

The two universities would collectively get $53 million to establish new buildings for their business schools.

UNCP would receive $23 million to replace its business school, built in 1969, and NCCU in Durham would get $30 million to replace its C. T. Willis Building, constructed in 1956.

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