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College approves tech academy plans

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The Wilson Community College Board of Trustees has approved two preliminary site plans for the proposed Wilson Academy of Applied Technology building that could be added to the Lee Technology Center campus if state funding is approved.

The board considered two versions of the 88,578 square-foot building, a two-story version and a three-story version. Voting unanimously, the board preferred three stories but said the college could accommodate the two-story version.

The building would be located in the space between the Lee campus’ automotive technology and applied engineering technology buildings.

The Wilson County Board of Education voted unanimously Feb. 18 to apply for state funding to construct a $20 million building at the Lee Technology Center for the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology, which is currently operating out of Beddingfield High School.

The funding would come from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund.

“Wilson County Schools staff has gotten a couple of basic options for what a WAAT building might look like on Lee Technology Center,” said Tim Wright, Wilson Community College president.

Wright said Lane Mills, superintendent of Wilson County Schools, wanted the WCC Board of Trustees to evaluate the plans before the Wilson County Board of Education considers them at its next meeting on April 15.

“We’re kind of in a very preliminary stage here,” Wright said. “They don’t even have the funding yet. There’s a lot of cracks for this thing to fall through before we get to the end.”

Wright explained that the conceptual drawings board members saw are not hard and fast plans.

“These are their preliminary concepts and all they are asking from our board is to say we are OK with either one or we strongly prefer one or we can’t live with one of them,” he said.

Wright said it was the board’s prerogative to make an informal recommendation or a more formal approval.

The board was shown a footprint for the two-story version and the three-story version. Both versions had labs, classrooms, office space and even a gymnasium.

Wright said the proposed structure does not change any of the college’s plans to develop the Lee Technology Center.

He said the three-story version would be more expensive, adding roughly $3.5 million to the price.

Vice chairman David West wondered if a three-story building would be out of place adjacent to the single-story structures currently at the site.

Board member Jerry Dorsey wanted to know why the plans included a gymnasium.

Rob Holsten, WCC vice president for academic affairs, explained that the school would have physical education requirements.

In the three-story version, the gymnasium is closer to Ward Boulevard but in the two-story plan, the gym is at the back of the building. In the two-story version, the gymnasium would be where WCC’s planned building construction technology building would be located.

“This would be cheaper, but what it would mean for us is that we would have to go back to the drawing board and plan the HVAC and electric building to include our building construction technology program,” Wright said. “We don’t think it would be a lot more expensive for us, if any. It would just simply put our plans off a few more months.”

Dorsey asked how many students would be in the WAAT program and if there would be adequate parking at the site.

Holsten said there would be about 350 to 400 students for WAAT.

Board member Bucky Robbins said he’d prefer the three-story version because it would interfere less with existing WCC plans at the site.

Board member Alice Scott said Wilson County Schools may not get the funding for a three-story building and may have to revert to two stories.

“It may turn out to be a 50,000 square-foot building instead of an 88,000,” Wright said. “We are a long way from this being a reality.”

Robbins wondered if the school system would be responsible for maintenance.

Wright said none of that has been worked out yet.

“We need to be talking about that now so that we can get some reasonable understanding of whose responsibility different things are going to be,” said board member Tom Fyle.

Wright said the college and school system will need a memorandum of understanding about custodial maintenance and decision-making responsibility.

“If a blower goes out or something, who decides if we replace it or do we fix it? All that’s got to be decided,” Wright said.

“Or if WAAT should cease, who gets the building?” Robbins asked.

Board member Ken Jones said the meeting’s purpose was to decide which of the plans the board prefers.

“The three-story building does not (affect) our plans. The two-story building has some minor impacts administratively on our plans,” Jones said.

“Six months is not a long time,” West said.

Wright said the delay would not affect current programs, which are undertaken in existing locations on the Herring Avenue campus.

Wright stressed that the current plans were “absolutely preliminary.”

“We would want it to look the best it can, but to me, that’s the second value,” Wright said. “The first value is ‘What is the best facility we can put there for the students?’ I don’t know what that will be. I don’t even know if it will turn out to be either of these particular plans.”

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