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Assembly approval of COA bill unanimous

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Robert Wynegar

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, March 22, 2019

The General Assembly has unanimously approved legislation that will help College of The Albemarle build a new classroom facility in Dare County.

In a 118-0 vote, the state House approved the COA legislation, Senate Bill 6, on Wednesday. The vote follows a 46-0 vote in the Senate last month.

Senate Bill 6 will allow COA to use $1.5 million in state bond money for rebuilding its Roanoke Island Campus, allowing consolidation of programs and offices, according to the community college. The legislation would allow funds to be used to demolish the former Manteo Middle School and to pay for new construction.

The bill is necessary because the state bonds require community colleges to own the properties on which they spend bond money. Dare County owns the middle school site. Senate Bill 6 would exempt COA's project from the ownership requirement, contingent on Dare County commissioners granting COA at least a 30-year lease of the site.

In an email Thursday, COA President Robert Wynegar hailed the legislation, and indicated its passage allows COA and Dare County to start planning more specifics of the facility.

“We were excited to see that the legislation has passed for new facility construction,” Wynegar wrote, also noting the Professional Arts Building, which COA also currently uses in Manteo, will remain in use.

Regarding program offerings, Wynegar said the focus so far is college preparation and potential expansion of hospitality and trade programs. Talks with Dare officials about additional programs will continue as construction progresses, he added.

Dare County Manager Robert Outten said the county is excited that the new facility can move forward. With the bill passed, Dare can hire an architect and, in consultation with COA, design the building to accommodate priority programs.

Though the facility's size and courses aren't set yet, Outten said COA's talked about the facility being around 37,000 square feet. Based on community feedback, he said there's interest in not only college prep, hospitality and trade programs, but programs in aquaculture, agriculture and natural resources, health sciences, and lifelong learning. Outten also said Dare has set aside $7 million to construct the facility.

The legislation's passage is a long-sought goal for state Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, who advocated for it in 2017, only to run into opposition from then-lawmakers state Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, and state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.

Steinburg could not be reached for comment Thursday, but state Rep. Bobby Hanig, the Currituck Republican who defeated Boswell in the 2018 GOP primary, has also strongly supported the legislation. He also introduced identical, companion legislation in the House, though lawmakers opted to advance the Senate bill instead.

“What a great day yesterday was,” Hanig said, referring to the bill's final vote on Wednesday. “It's going to bring Dare County into the 21st century for a community college education.”

The new facility should be a boon to COA and an “economic driver” for Dare County, he said. He explained it will save local residents from long drives to other COA campuses for needed courses, including those for high-demand trades such as welding. That means the new facility should boost both COA's enrollment and wages, he said.

Even with S6's passage, Dare residents still have a wait ahead of them. Outten said the facility will probably take two years to construct.

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