More than a year ago, voters throughout North Carolina approved the $2 billion Connect NC bond issue. The approval of this bond issue in March 2016 will mean hundreds of millions of dollars for education, parks, safety, recreation and water and sewer needs throughout the state.

Recently, McDowell Technical Community College officials talked about what this bond referendum could do to help their institution of higher learning move forward.

“It's been 15 years since the last general obligation bond was approved by the voters to upgrade North Carolina’s infrastructure and since then North Carolina has added 2 million people in population,” reads a news release from McDowell Tech. “The $2 billion bond will connect North Carolina to the 21st century through statewide investments in education, parks, safety, recreation, and water and sewer infrastructure.”

The Connect NC bond will raise $2 billion during a seven-year period, much of which goes to community colleges and universities. Of this, $980 million or 49 percent, of the overall bond issuance will go to the 16 state universities in North Carolina while $350 million (17 percent) will go to the 58 community colleges throughout the state.

McDowell Tech will have $4.6 million available to build new space and/or renovate existing space, according to Ryan Garrison, chief financial officer of McDowell Tech.

“Because these are state monies, we have reporting requirements and processes that we must go through in order to draw down the funds” said Garrison. “It will take some time to get things approved all along the way, such as the architects, the drawings, and the general contractor.”

The college’s board of trustees has begun the process by allocating $250,000 of the NC Connect Bond for the Vickie A. Hogan Multidisciplinary Simulation Lab. The board has also chosen the architectural firm of Holland & Hamrick to help lead the college through the planning, design and construction of a new cosmetic arts building on the campus, according to the news release.

This new building will house cosmetology, esthetics and allow McDowell Tech to expand programs that they have had to place on hold because of space, such as nail technology.

Penny Cross, vice president of academics, said she is excited about the possibilities for growth.

“We have begun the process of starting a barber school for our new building” said Cross.

President John Gossett said he too is enthused about starting a barber school at McDowell Tech.

“There are no barber schools between Winston-Salem or Charlotte and Knoxville, Tenn.,” said Gossett. “People wanting to get into that industry are forced to move for a year or more so we are looking forward to offering an alternative where they can stay closer to home.”

Likewise, expanded space might lead to other new programs. “We have a very successful esthetics program and are proud of our graduates” said Cross. “As the baby boomers age into retirement, we are looking at careers that might be needed, such as massage therapy which would fit nicely into our program mix.”

Once McDowell Tech starts using the new building, there will be vacated space that needs renovation.

“We have needs in our student services department, library, and business office” said Gossett. “Technology is driving change in how we interact with students which means the physical space where that interaction occurs has to change with it. Safety and security is always a concern so we may improve the areas where staff interacts with students. Libraries and student study space of today look remarkably different they did when I was in school, so we need to address that as well.”

In addition to McDowell Tech, Lake James State Park is scheduled to get $3 million. Park Superintendent Nora Coffey said to The McDowell News in a previous interview this money would be used to build a visitor’s center at the newer Paddy’s Creek section of the state park, which covers both McDowell and Burke counties.