- March 8, 2012
Feature News Story
Over Budget and Under Pressure
The buildings and parking lots on Third Street, between Hanover and Brunswick streets, sit there heavily. They’re recovering from a recent scare of being brought down to be replaced with 150,000 square feet of something new. But they’ve just won some extra time and aside from these buildings, no one else seems to be too happy about it.
Construction of Cape Fear Community College’s (CFCC) newest addition, the Humanities and Fine Arts Center, was supposed to begin in February, but after multiple bids from contractors came in at least $8 million over budget, it was back to the drawing boards.
Designed by architecture firm LS3P, the Humanities and Fine Arts Center would include 40 new classrooms and 24 new faculty offices for the humanities department, one of the largest at the college.
“The North Carolina Community College System is the third largest in the nation. Each year the system's 58 institutions enroll more than three-quarters of a million students on campuses that are within 30 miles of 100 percent of the state's population,” reports NCpedia, an online encyclopedia of North Carolina’s businesses, resources, education and more.
“Currently we are serving over 5,000 students each semester with our humanities courses. Sure, it’s a well-designed theatre, but what it could do for this department is far more important,” said Frank Carter, Jr., chair of the humanities and fine arts department. And this number is only growing.
Right now CFCC is experiencing record enrollments as tuition costs for universities and other colleges continue to rise. Students are discovering that they can take the same core classes at a community college that are required of everyone, for less than half of the cost of other schools.
Some of these required classes are humanities courses. Art, Communication, Drama, Foreign Languages, Humanities, Religion, Philosophy, and Film all fall under the category of humanities and students not only have to take a certain number of these classes, they want to.
Even more pressing than the situation of increased enrollment is the fact that E Building, the building currently housing the Humanities and Fine Arts Department, is owned by the city and is graciously being rented to the school.
“CFCC is already using the facilities past the original deadline set with the city. It's up to city officials as to when the college will have to leave,” said David Hardin, public information officer for CFCC.
The college cannot afford to leave the building yet, but they don’t want to stay. “I am currently teaching in substandard facilities. My office is located in the E Building and I teach all of my classes there as well,” said Jessica Gaffney, theater instructor at CFCC. Even Hardin refers to the E Building as a “small, outdated facility.”
Cape Fear is the most crowded community college in the state causing hundreds of students per year to be turned away simply due to inadequate classroom space. And whether it is about these students or slightly more selfish, 900 CFCC students, faculty and staff are showing the Board of Trustees that this building is needed now.
“There’s a lot of people who go here and a lot of classes we all have to take. Yeah, it’ll be cool having access to a giant theater and all the great extras, but I just don’t want someone’s knee in my back anymore,” said Jay Saunders, a sophomore and business management major at CFCC.
And when an issue involves students, it’s Hannah Peterson who stands up for everyone. Peterson, president of the Student Government Association created a petition to re-purpose money left over from other buildings in order to begin construction on the Humanities and Fine Arts Center. “Students should have a powerful say in this. We may not be in charge, but we constitute a large majority of this campus,” Peterson said.
Ideas for cutting building costs such as changes to curtains and handrails, less seating, and the removal of a balcony and elevator were all suggested, but still the majority of the board did not support shifting funds to the Humanities and Fine Arts Center even though shifts like this had been unanimously approved in past projects.
“It came as a surprise to everyone involved,” said Hardin. Increases in the price of steel along with some non-standard design features hold the blame for the high bids and some trustees are hoping prices don’t continue to increase in the upcoming year for fear of putting off construction even longer.
The Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees recommended the shift in funds to the full board of trustees which voted to send the building back to the design phase. One major concern was that the New Hanover County Commissioners would not approve the sale of the bonds needed to build the facility if it was over budget.
Now that LS3P has been sent back to the drawing board, the timeline for completion of the Humanities and Fine Arts Center is anyone’s guess. Redesigning could take anywhere from a few months to a year, but once the new plans have been approved the building will take 16 to 20 months to complete.
CFCC President, Eric McKeithan, who has been president of the college since 1994, supported the idea to re-purpose surplus money from other construction endeavors such as Union Station in order to fund the construction of the Humanities and Fine Arts Center.
Although he retires on July 1, 2012, McKeithan plans on remaining involved in the construction and overseeing that the project goes as planned; plan B that is.