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TOP 10 STORIES OF 2017: No. 9

Wynegar joins COA, addresses challenges

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New College of The Albemarle President Robert Wynegar gestures during an interview shortly after his arrival on campus, Monday, April 17.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Editor’s note: Our review of the top stories of 2017 continues. 

College of The Albemarle brought aboard a new president in April, and he immediately found himself addressing facility needs in Pasquotank, Dare and Currituck counties and contemplating the future of the Edenton-Chowan campus.

In March the COA Board of Trustees selected Robert Wynegar from among four finalists to become the college’s 10th president. Wynegar succeeded Kandi Deitemeyer, who left COA in December 2016 to become president of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.

A veteran community college teacher and administrator who came to COA from Western Nevada College, Wynegar assumed the reins at COA on April 17. COA officials cited Wynegar’s stewardship of Western Nevada during a funding crisis — he had arrived there shortly after its state funding was cut 42 percent and full-time faculty reduced from 90 to 50 — in their decision to hire him.

COA’s new president arrived just as the college was making a decision about how to use $6.59 million in NC Connect Bond funds for college facilities in Pasquotank, Currituck and Dare counties. 

The plan called for using $1.8 million for library renovations on the main campus in Elizabeth City; $549,000 for lobby renovations at the Performing Arts Center, also on the main campus; $1.5 million for campus consolidation and renovation of professional arts spaces in Dare County; $1 million for a public safety building that would also feature classrooms in Currituck; and $1.3 million for a maintenance and storage facility at the back of the main campus.

The proposals in Currituck and Dare involved COA participation in county projects, which meant the college had to secure legislative permission from the General Assembly to use the bond proceeds there. Under state law at the time, the bond funds couldn’t be used for what essentially were county projects.

That permission proved hard to come by, however.

Both state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, declined to back the bill despite staunch support from fellow Republican Bob Steinburg of Chowan County, who represents Currituck and other area counties in the House.

Cook eventually backed a bill for use of the bond funds in Currituck, but only after the Dare project was removed. Cook said he did so because of Boswell’s opposition.

For her part, Boswell claimed she opposed the bill because she wasn't approached about it and said it was introduced at the last minute before the “crossover” period. Crossover refers to a deadline by which either the House or the Senate must approve a bill for it to remain actionable during a legislative session. The General Assembly's website showed, however, that the COA legislation was introduced on April 6, but crossover wasn’t until April 27.

The scaled-back version of the bill passed the General Assembly and was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper. COA officials are expected to seek a bill for the Dare project in the upcoming legislative session. Boswell said in October that she continues to speak with Dare and COA officials about applying bond funds to the projects.

Total costs for the Dare campus consolidation project was estimated at $8.1 million, while the public safety building and classrooms project in Currituck was estimated at $7.5 million.

Currituck is planning a facility to house law enforcement agencies and a volunteer fire station at a single location. COA's participation in the project will provide dedicated classroom space for instruction in public safety occupations and also will make some common spaces available for COA’s use.

Notably absent from the bond-funded facilities plan was any kind of upgrade to facilities on COA’s Edenton-Chowan campus.

One reason appeared to be COA trustees’ decision in April to direct staff to balance and “rightsize” Edenton-Chowan’s budget after COA officials acknowledged the campus had lost state funds because of declining enrollment.

Trustees also formalized a previously announced plan to relocate the electrical and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) trades programs from the Edenton-Chowan campus to COA’s main campus in Elizabeth City.

Interim COA President Kennon Briggs, who remained on board in an advisory capacity during Wynegar’s first week at COA, told trustees that the Edenton-Chowan campus had carried a budget imbalance over the past six to eight years that had cost COA a total of $1.6 million in lost state funds. The budget shortfall was caused by declining enrollment, he said.

The Edenton-Chowan campus has seen enrollment decline from 1,535 students to 895, Briggs said. Of the 895, the overwhelming majority — 842 — were enrolled in continuing education and basic skills programs, he said.

For now, the plan to balance the Edenton-Chowan Campus budget was focused on increasing enrollment rather than on cuts.

Chowan officials have pinned their hopes for the future of the campus largely on the prospect of landing an agriculture curriculum program in Edenton.

COA officials, however, are planning to base a transfer program for students interesting in majoring in agriculture at N.C. State University at the main campus in Elizabeth City. COA has expressed some interest in establishing an agriculture certificate program on the Edenton-Chowan campus.

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