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Ward's family donates $600K to COA

Charles Ward.jpg

Charles Ward

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Friday, October 21, 2016

The family of a deceased College of The Albemarle trustee and former Perquimans County commissioner has given the college $600,000, but how the money will be spent remains unclear.

Terms of the late Charles Ward's will call for using the six-figure gift on trustees’ choice of either COA's library or for a baseball field, COA President Kandi Deitemeyer told trustees Tuesday. Trustees, after voicing several concerns about those options, voted to table a decision on what to do with Ward’s gift until their next meeting.

COA already intends to use funding from the statewide ConnectNC bond approved by voters in March to help pay for the library renovations. COA also has capital improvement funding and private money saved up to pay for the remainder of the cost for the library project, which isn't expected to start until May.

The college also doesn’t currently have a baseball program. At the urging of Deitemeyer and citing the lack of long-term, sustainable funding, trustees voted 11-5 in April 2015 to suspend the community college's athletic program, which included baseball and softball. In October 2015, trustees voted to make the suspension indefinite, but left the door open for a possible revival of athletics should sufficient funding become available.

During the board’s discussion on the Ward gift Tuesday, Elizabeth City Mayor Joe Peel, who's also a COA trustee, said he'd like to have more information about the library’s needs and how the money could be spent on that project. He said he'd also like to know what impact, if any, spending the money on the library would have on athletics.

Trustee Don McCabe said he wanted to know whether the athletic program could be made viable again with Ward’s $600,000 gift.

“Well, it's more than we started with 10 years ago,” Trustee Roger Lambertson said, a reference to when local efforts began several years ago to restart COA athletics.

COA first suspended intercollegiate athletics in 1977 after more than 10 seasons of play. Support grew in the 2000s for restoring athletics, however, and then-president Lynne Bunch succeeded at restarting a baseball program in 2010 and a softball program a year later.

At the time trustees suspended athletics the second time, the college was spending 
approximately $90,000 a year on the program. College officials said the program needed more money, however, to field another women’s team to comply with federal anti-discrimination rules

An athletics endowment was established at COA to pay for facilities and support the program. As of the end of April 2015, the endowment, which is controlled by the COA Foundation, had a total of nearly $449,000. The endowment’s original goal had been $1 million.

Trustee Doug Gardner said he believes $600,000 is too much for a baseball field but not enough to sustain an athletics program at the college.

“Six-hundred thousand could go into the library and bump some of the money that we've earmarked to pay for it into some of the other capital things that we need to do,” Gardner said.

Lambertson, however, said he doesn’t believe $600,000 would be enough for a baseball field.

Gardner said later that real estate agents had found several sites for a COA ballfield within five miles of the Elizabeth City main campus with asking prices for as low as $150,000 to as high as $1 million.

Prior to suspension of COA’s sports program, the college’s teams had to play its home games on the ballfields at area high schools.

Peel said at Tuesday’s meeting he thinks the question of how to spend the $600,000 gift depends on whether COA has to purchase land for the baseball field.

Trustee Arthur Tillett recommended tabling the matter until the board’s next meeting. He said trustees may need to have a discussion with an attorney, noting it’s unclear whether Ward’s will requires COA to spend the $600,000 on a baseball field or a baseball complex.

Ward was a longtime Hertford businessman who served on the Perquimans Board of Commissioners for two decades and for five years as Perquimans’s representative on the COA trustee board. He died in September 2014 at age 76.

Members of Ward's family were on hand for Tuesday’s trustee meeting. Speaking for Ward’s family, local attorney Tom Nash talked about Ward's love for Perquimans and COA.

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