Commentary: Power of ‘Yes’

Commentary: Power of ‘Yes’
February 25
00:00 2016

By Dr. Gary Green, Elwood Robinson and Lindsay Bierman

Guest Columnists

On March 15, North Carolina residents will go to the polls to vote on a bond referendum – the Connect NC bond. This referendum will allow the state to make crucial investments in important areas, including the university and community college systems, the National Guard, state parks, and water and sewer systems.

Two-thirds of the Connect NC bond will fund improvements in higher education, including a $50 million Sciences Building at Winston-Salem State University, $10.9 million for repairs and renovations at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and $5.8 million in campus improvements at Forsyth Technical Community College. These and other projects funded by the bond would come with no tax increase for North Carolinians.

For our region, the largest project included in the bond is the new Sciences Building at Winston-Salem State University. Designed to provide open, interactive, and flexible learning and collaboration spaces, the Sciences Building will facilitate collaboration across disciplinary boundaries to advance the frontiers of scientific knowledge. This project represents a significant investment in STEM-H (science, technology, engineering and math – health) education for under-served and minority students. Investment in our STEM-H infrastructure will have a lasting impact on the state’s ability to attract and retain companies offering high-paying jobs.

Further, this building responds to a national need for greater diversity among STEM-H professionals. Women and minority populations continue to be under-represented, so it will become increasingly difficult to provide an adequate scientific workforce. State-of-the-art science facilities will help make these fields more appealing to students as they choose majors while also ensuring they receive the education they need to be successful in the workforce.

UNCSA adds an “A” to STEM to produce STEAM, which recognizes the arts and creative industries as a powerful driver of economic growth – to the tune of $700 billion for the U.S. economy, and $40 billion for the N.C. economy. The state’s conservatory for the arts is designated to receive $10.9 million of repair and renovation funding for repurposing its old library ($8 million), and partial renovation of Performance Place ($2.9 million). Performance Place is the university’s largest on-campus performance venue and annually hosts hundreds of campus and community events for the public.

The repurposing of UNCSA’s now-vacant old library will reclaim 30,000 square feet in the heart of campus and will literally transform the school. The building will become an arts laboratory; plans call for spaces designed for creative incubation, innovation, and collaboration across disciplines. The addition of 21st-century practice and rehearsal studios will support the evolution and prototyping of breakthrough artistic works to drive the state’s creative economy. UNCSA also looks to the renovation to address critical space needs across campus due to enrollment and program growth, ranging from arts-based instructional platforms to faculty and staff offices necessary to foster a quality workplace. Both are goals of the school’s strategic plan, which is designed to propel UNCSA to the forefront of performing arts and media education in the country.

Forsyth Tech will apply its designated $5.8 million to renovate the college’s Forsyth Building on Main Campus, upgrade utility and technology infrastructure, demolish obsolete and unsafe structures, and construct a technical education center in Stokes County. These projects, some of which are overdue, are essential to helping the college meet growth expectations by providing the best possible facilities and education to residents of Forsyth and Stokes counties.

All of the projects at these three institutions are of critical importance to the region and the state. It’s been 15 years since the last general obligation bonds were authorized to upgrade our state’s infrastructure. North Carolina’s rapid growth has made us the ninth most populous state, but we have not been keeping up with the needs of our citizens. All of us in higher education realize that we are preparing our students to compete in a global economy, so it’s imperative that North Carolina continue its progress and invest in its future. The Connect NC bond will help infuse capital to provide critical investments that drive innovation and collaboration – both key to the continued growth of our economy.

Please join us March 15 in voting “yes” for Connect NC.

Elwood Robinson is chancellor of Winston-Salem State University.

Lindsay Bierman is chancellor of University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Gary Green is president Forsyth Technical Community College.

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