Voters say ‘yes’ to Connect NC bond

North Carolina voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly said yes to the $2 billion Connect NC bond referendum – and to higher education.

By Gary Moss

Nearly half of the bond will go to support an array of building projects across the UNC system, including $68 million for a new medical education building at Carolina.

Leaders at Carolina thanked voters for supporting the bond designed to meet the critical needs of the state’s growing population and help Carolina meet the state’s growing demand for doctors.

"I am so grateful to North Carolina’s voters for supporting higher education in such a wonderful way,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “It is a strong endorsement for the importance of having the very best facilities at Carolina to train more North Carolina doctors for our state.”

In advocating for the bond, Bill Roper, dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of the UNC Health Care System, said the population of North Carolina is getting bigger – and older – and the graying of Baby Boomers will continue to impose a growing demand for health care – and doctors – in the state for years to come. About a third of today’s practicing physicians will have retired by 2020.

“I am thankful for the North Carolina voters and their support of our mission to train the next generations of physicians, clinicians, scientists and health professionals,” Roper said. “A new medical education building will provide an environment where today’s brightest minds can expand what is possible in medicine.”

The new medical education building will replace Berryhill Hall, which is filled with big lecture halls that are not conducive to the kind of hands-on learning students need to simulate the real-world situations they will face as practicing physicians.

When it opened in 1970, the medical school consisted of 353 students. Today, the medical school trains more than 2,400 inter-professional health care providers and medical students.

A new, bigger medical education building will allow the medical school to accommodate an incoming class of 230 medical students – 50 more than Berryhill can currently accommodate.

Throughout the campaign, Gov. Pat McCrory and other bond supporters emphasized that it had been 15 years since voter last approved a general obligation bond. In that time, the state’s population had grown by 2 million people.

McCrory has said no tax increases will be necessary to finance the bond, which will allow the state to pay for 50-year assets with 20-year, low interest financing.

The bond will pay for projects in 76 of the state’s 100 counties, with $75 million earmarked to update facilities at 45 state parks. Another $25 million will be spent to upgrade support facilities, trails and exhibits at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

The bond also provides $309.5 million in statewide water and sewer loans and grants to meet the demands of a growing population, and another $79 million in construction for National Guard Regional Readiness Centers in Burke, Guilford and Wilkes counties.

But more than half of the bond – $980 million for UNC campuses and $350 million for community colleges – will go to support higher education.

In the Triangle, N.C. State will receive $75 million for a new engineering building, along with $85 million for the Plant Sciences Initiative Complex and N.C. Central will get $30 million for a new business school building.

“This is a great day for the UNC system and all of North Carolina,’’ UNC President Margaret Spellings said. “We are grateful to the voters for approving the Connect NC Bond package and for their demonstration of support and confidence in our public University and community colleges. North Carolina is known for its longstanding commitment to public higher education, and the economic return on that investment has been tremendous. Today — at the ballot box — our citizens reaffirmed that historic commitment. With their votes, they said that higher education must continue to help meet the needs of the state and to open the doors of economic opportunity for their children and grandchildren.”

At a press conference Tuesday night, McCrory emphasized the bi-partisan support the bond package received as Republicans and Democrats came together to decide what was best for the next generation of North Carolina.

“We did this as a team,” McCrory said.

Gary Moss is the editor of the University Gazette at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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