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The Wilson County Board of Education voted unanimously to move forward with an application to seek state funding to construct a $20 million facility at the Wilson Community College Lee Technology Center campus.
The building would be used as a new home for the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology presently located at Beddingfield High School.
Lane Mills, superintendent of Wilson County Schools, told the board that the funding would come from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund from the State of North Carolina Public Schools.
The funding is to be used for new school construction, as opposed to renovation projects. This is the second year that it has been available.
Mills said he had been involved in informal discussion with the community college and the county manager about some of the school system’s needs.
“One concern we have is the building for WAAT to continue to expand and grow given its current location and classroom space,” Mills said. “We have done some things out there to modify the building to give them some extra classroom space over time, but with some of their needs in the manufacturing sector that they are wanting to focus on and other areas, we are going to landlocked in terms of that building.”
Mills said the project would benefit the entire county and not just the county school system.
The deadline for applications is Aug. 31.
“We have explored some ideas with some folks from some different groups,” Mills said.
The informal conversations have been with WCC President Tim Wright, WCC foundation members and Wilson County Manager Denise Stinagle.
Mills said one proposal is to locate the building between the two most recently renovated buildings on the Lee Technology Center.
“We have gone ahead and started looking at what the application would entail and where we could go from here to apply. The deadline is going to be very, very tight,” Mills said.
“The good news is as a Tier 1 county, we are eligible for one dollar local funds for three dollars in grant funds. So our maximum funding is $15 million for Tier 1 counties. So for a $5 million investment, we could build a $20 million building.”
“I think now is our best time to take advantage of this,” Mills said.
Applicants must demonstrate a critical need. The proposed project has to be signed off on by the county commissioner chair as well as the board of education chair.
“There is a time frame that you have to go through, but it does involve school planning and estimates and architectural drawings and schematics, so there are some engineering pieces that we would have to provide as far as the application,” Mills said. “I do think we have a good chance at obtaining funding. I do think it would fill a very important need for our community and for our students but also our community at large.”
Mills said the structure could be modeled after the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy at Wake Technical Community College.
“We were thinking 22 classrooms or so, but lab space would be on the bottom. It would be a two-story building,” Mills said. “The issue we have right now is when you do the lab space you have to manage the HVAC, electrical and safety requirements and everything but be flexible depending on what courses you are going to offer. We want to do it universal enough where can offer different course pathways within the same setting.”
Board member Gary Farmer suggested another possible site could be a 10-acre piece owned by the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf where a residence hall was once planned.
The site was graded out and is located between the two WCC campuses.
Chairwoman Christine Fitch said several locations were raised in discussions.
Fitch said Krystal Cox, principal for WAAT, seeks to expand the pathways currently available at the academy.
“What is being looked at would be beneficial,” Fitch said. “It would give back to Beddingfield the instructional space that was taken away from them in order to create the labs for the machinery and the different equipment that the students were learning on.”
Fitch said the proposed building would be a way of thinking outside the box and would allow these programs to grow and meet community needs and not just the industrial community.
“They would also look to expand their advisory committee in order to better facilitate revising or expanding some of the programs that are currently being offered at the community college and making that more of a career academy and not just focus on one industrial format at this point,” Fitch said.