Building boom at A-B Tech
From the Asheville Citizen-Times July 28, 2014
Dolly Horton jokes that she celebrates a little each time a new beam goes up at the site of A-B Tech’s new Allied Health building.
Horton, who is dean of Allied Health and Public Service Education, has been waiting a long time for this.
The $32.2 million building that is changing the landscape of the Victoria Road campus is slated for completion next summer.
If all goes as planned, the Allied Health and Workforce Development Building will open nearly four years after voters narrowly approved the quarter-cent sales tax that is paying for this and other new structures on the campus.
“I cannot wait,” Horton said.
The five-story building, which will have nearly 170,000 square feet of space, is one of three projects in various stages on the main campus of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
Workers have also begun work on a 650-space parking deck, and Buncombe County recently accepted bids for construction of a multipurpose building that can be used as an auditorium or can be divided into smaller sections.
That building will be built behind the existing Coman Student Center. It will cost just less than $6.4 million and will have 24,000 square feet.
All of this building follows fierce debate over the sales tax, controversy over the college’s original plans for the health building and a tug-of-war between the county and college that eventually led to Buncombe County taking over the project.
And as construction ramps up on the health building, the college is taking a closer look at its programs and developing a facilities master plan to see which programs will need more space and which projects should be next on the list.
“I would say the term ‘facilities’ almost is misleading for what’s going on. This is a growth plan for the future. The truth is that it’s going to drive our construction,” said A-B Tech President Dennis King.
When the health programs move into the new building, the college will have to decide how to use the Rhododendron building, which currently houses those programs. That will set off a domino effect on campus as various spaces are freed up and programs are moved around.
Another issue is whether A-B Tech needs a facility in south Buncombe County, King said. The college leases space from Mars Hill University in a building on Airport Road.
“It appears to us that the county is growing that way, and we need a presence out there,” King said. “They (the firm working on the master plan) are either going to confirm or deny that through the master facilities plan, and it may well be that they say part of the money from the quarter-cent sales tax needs to be spent on building a facility for the public in the south part of the county.”
King said he believes friction between the county and the college has been resolved.
“I think whatever problems there were between the college and the county are gone,” he said.
The problems emerged, in part, from disagreement over what should go into the new Allied Health building.
Former A-B Tech president Hank Dunn initially planned to move his office into the building. The original plan also included an auditorium on the first floor of the health building, which increased its costs.
“Originally, the past president wanted a big auditorium in Allied Health, and it was costing us a tremendous amount of money simply because you’re having to span that large of a space, plus have a multistory building on top of it. It just became really expensive,” said Jon Creighton, assistant county manager.
The original cost of the health building was more than $50 million, according to Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene.
County officials at the time raised concerns about whether the auditorium, if it was rented out frequently for noneducational purposes, would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the bonds used to pay for the project.
Amid all the turmoil over the building, state lawmakers approved special legislation giving Buncombe County final say over the projects.
The county made a number of changes to the health building, including removing the auditorium. The county will instead construct a standalone, multipurpose building that can used for large events but can also be sectioned off and used by smaller groups.
“Just by taking that auditorium out and allowing the (health) building to be supported the way standard construction works greatly saved some money,” King said.
The changes also will mean more classroom space inside the health building, and that should free up even more space on campus, Greene said. The savings helped fund the parking structure, which students say is needed.
Horton said she was disappointed in some of the changes to the health building, including removing the campus child care center from the new facility. College officials had hoped to construct lab spaces where early childhood education students could interact with the children in the child care center.
“It’s not going to have all the bells and whistles that we wanted, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be amazing,” Horton said of the facility.
Since the college first made its pitch for a sales tax, the Allied Health building has been the priority.
Horton, who has been involved in the project since the beginning, worked to convince voters to support the tax. It wasn’t always easy.
“I went to one community center and they actually booed me, and there was a man in the front row who hissed at me,” she said.
But students and staff at A-B Tech say the new building is long overdue.
Right now, Allied Health programs are crammed into classrooms in the Rhododendron building. “This building was built in 1970, and it was built as a multipurpose educational facility, so the classrooms were designed to be classrooms, not labs,” Horton said.
A-B Tech started with two health programs. It now has 22. Horton said health care providers would like to see new programs that the college simply doesn’t have room for right now.
“Pharmacy technology, when they came to be two years ago, they were put into a multipurpose conference room,” Horton said. “There was a big, long solid conference table in there, and we had to take that out and try to put in very small tables with chairs to accommodate the students.”
Fire codes limit the number of students in the room to 16, Horton said. The space restricts how many students can take part in the program.
“We have to take all the chairs out (of the room), put them in the hallway to pull out the chemistry hoods for them (students) to work on the lab portion. And when they’re done, they push them back and they push the chairs back into the classroom,” Horton said.
The new building will provide state-of the-art lab space for the health programs. A-B Tech faculty and staff members had a hand in designing the spaces.
“We (will) have a nursing wing that looks like a hospital wing,” Horton said.
The new building will also provide space for students in different programs to interact.
“When you go to the hospital, you do not just see a nurse or a lab tech or a rad tech. You see all these people. Unfortunately in curriculum, a lot of people put things in boxes,” Horton said. “We’re going to take the walls down. We’re going to put these people together and have them work together.”
Horton said faculty are planning “collaborative case scenarios” that students from different departments work on together. Elevators will be large enough for hospital beds and gurneys so students can move from department to department.
“It will prepare students more for the kind of environment they’re going to be in when they start clinicals and when they start jobs,” said surgical technology student Jordan Mann.
The new building may also help boost awareness about health careers, students say.
“We’re obviously jealous. We wish that we could be in there (now). It will come after we’ve graduated, but it will be nice for the incoming students,” said surgical tech student Gretchen Westbrock.
The top floor of the new building will be a shell space to allow for expansion.
While the college has multiple projects under way, officials are also working to develop a facilities master plan that will help determine future priorities.
“I think we stayed pretty close to the list of projects the public approved,” King said. “But I wanted to make sure we had a logical plan for the future.”
College trustees will get a first look at the initial “concepts” when they meet next month, King said. A final plan should be completed this fall.
Mathews Architecture, P.A. is leading the effort to develop the plan.
The idea is to set “facility and land use goals at A-B Tech for at least the next 10 years,” Jane G. Mathews with Mathews Architecture said via email.
“We will be looking at such things as possible relocation of programs/divisions to facilities or locations that better serve academic needs; identifying which facilities will need renovation/improvement and where new structures might be placed in the future; identifying improvements to internal campus circulation, parking and connectivity to sites off-campus; creating better campus life in terms of amenities and resources for students/faculty and staff and a campus center/heart/identity,” Mathews said.
Greene said it made sense to take another look at the college’s plans “because all of these master plans, capital plans from before had been done several years ago.”
“And then when we changed the content of the Allied Health building, it gave them an opportunity to re-look at how they wanted to use buildings that would be vacated,” she said.
King said he wants to look at a facility in south Buncombe County. The college is considering starting an aviation technology program, and “the proximity of that site to the airport where they (students) would be getting their flight training is great, and so the thought is that perhaps we ought to put the classroom work there at that site.”
There’s no room in the current space leased by the college, King said.
Where is the sales tax money going?
Here’s a look at some of the projects funded through the sales tax approved by Buncombe County voters in 2011:
• $32.2 million: 169,543-square-foot Allied Health Building (under construction)
• $14.4 million: 650-space parking garage (work has started)
• $6.3 million: 24,000-square-foot multipurpose building (work could begin in early September)
• $5.7 million: 40,000-square-foot public safety classroom building (will soon being moving earth at the Public Safety Training Facility in Woodfin)
Julie Ball, firstname.lastname@example.org