Pitt County Voters to Make Final Decision Concerning Bond Referendum on Tuesday
WINTERVILLE—After months of explaining the need for bond funding, Pitt Community College administrators are two days away from finding out if a majority of Pitt County voters will support their request.
For the first time in 24 years, PCC is asking Pitt County citizens to approve a bond referendum to help the college address its need for additional instructional space. If the measure passes on Tuesday, the $19.9 million would be used to construct a new science building and move law enforcement training closer to the college’s main campus.
“We are making the most out of the space we have,” says PCC President G. Dennis Massey, “but we remain the most crowded campus in North Carolina.”
This summer, Pitt County Commissioners granted PCC’s request to place a bond referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot. Since then, the college has carried out an awareness campaign to explain why the revenue is needed and how it would be spent.
Science Building Would Give Biotech Program a Home and Help It Grow
Of the $19.9 million, Massey said $18 million would go toward a science building that would provide a home for the college’s biotechnology program and much-needed space for a variety of science and technology courses.
Christy Weeks, PCC Biotechnology Department Chair, says her program can presently serve no more than 20 students at a time, due to space constraints.
A new science building, she said, would allow for more students, additional equipment for training and better utilization of resources between the college’s science-related programs.
“I am sure that we are not reaching all of the students [interested in biotechnology] in this area,” Weeks said. “If we had more space, if we had more visibility, if it were more convenient for students, I know that our program would grow significantly.”
PCC is currently utilizing the Tech Enterprise Center of Eastern North Carolina on Greene Street in Greenville for biotechnology training. The county-owned facility is at least a 15-minute drive from the Pitt campus—a biotech student recently withdrew from microbiology offered on the main campus because the distance between locations caused her to be late for the class too often—and was supposed to be a short-term arrangement when the deal was made 10 years ago.
“Seems like every semester, there’s less and less space per student,” says Jason Crum, a graduate of PCC’s biotech program. “We’re running out of chairs, and we’re running out of room.”
Phil Hodges, president of Greenville’s Metrics, Inc., says passage of bond funding for PCC is “extremely important” to the growth of the college, in general, and in keeping Pitt County’s pharmaceutical industry from moving to areas that have a better-skilled workforce.
“We’ve got so many jobs that are open in this area for kids with science backgrounds,” Hodges said. “This biotechnology program at Pitt Community College does an excellent job of training people for industry.”
Hodges says it is essential to get youngsters interested in science careers and make sure they have a place to acquire that training. “We’ve got to remind people that there are opportunities here, too,” he said.
A New Home to Sow the Seeds of Law Enforcement Careers
The remaining bond funds would allow PCC to move its law enforcement training program closer to the main campus in Winterville. Students in the program are currently training at the college’s Greenville Center on Memorial Drive and in a warehouse behind that building.
Last year alone, PCC trained more than 5,000 public safety officers through its Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) programs and an array of in-service programming for various law enforcement agencies, such as the N.C. Highway Patrol, Greenville Police Department and Pitt County Sheriff’s Office.
Doug Bennett, PCC BLET Coordinator, says cramped quarters has made it difficult to find the necessary classroom space for all of the training his program provides.
If the bond is approved and law enforcement training has a new home, Massey said the classrooms and facilities they are currently using would be repurposed to provide specialized training for local business and industry.
PCC Economic Impact Outweighs Bond’s Tax Implications
Though passage of the bond referendum would result in a property tax increase for Pitt County residents, PCC administrators are quick to point out that contributions the college makes to the local economy each year far exceed the annual taxpayer investment of 1.85 cents per $100 valuation.
Massey noted that in addition to the $31 million in payroll and operational funds that positively impact the county’s economy each year, students attending PCC contribute by renting places to live, purchasing gas for transportation and buying food.
He also mentioned that PCC is preparing a skilled workforce for current business and industry, which helps attract new business and industry. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of PCC students remain in the region and contribute to the local economy, he said.
“We are generating taxpayers here,” Weeks says. “We are taking people off the unemployment line and putting them back into well-paying jobs. And that helps the economy, which helps everybody.”
Bond Referendum the Product of a Lack of Instructional Space
Since the last time PCC sought bond funding, Massey says the college’s enrollment has doubled. In fact, curriculum enrollment has grown 38 percent in just the past five years. As a result, statistics show Pitt is easily the state’s most crowded community college.
In 2012, Pitt served more than 23,000 students in credit and non-credit programs. This fall, 9,117 students signed up for classes, which set a new curriculum enrollment record for the college.
“We’re the most crowded of all higher education institutions in the state, public or private,” Massey said.
“It’s not just a matter of us being crowded in the space that we have, it’s a matter of not being able to provide the courses that students want and need for their degrees, diplomas and certificates,” he continued. “So, we have a major challenge to just deliver the access that students want.”