CULLOWHEE -- Western Carolina University Chancellor John W. Bardo called North Carolina voters' overwhelming endorsement of a $3.1 billion bond package for higher education a significant event in the history of the state -- and a monumental milestone for Western North Carolina.
"It's a proud day to be a North Carolinian," Bardo said after the Nov. 7 statewide referendum, in which the bonds won voter approval by a margin of 3-to-1. "This is wonderful, and I want to publicly thank the people of this state, and especially those in Western North Carolina, for their support of higher education."
Western will receive $98.4 million from the bond issue, with funds to modernize antiquated science laboratories, build a 300-bed residence hall, renovate several older classroom buildings, provide space for students in the humanities and fine arts, and begin to prepare for an anticipated enrollment boom.
"As they have done throughout North Carolina's history, the people of this great state have again elected to invest in their future by investing in higher education," Bardo said. "With approval of this historic bond issue, North Carolinians have chosen to contribute what is necessary to provide the quality facilities in which to educate their sons, daughters and grandchildren."
Bonds to finance the projects at WCU -- and at the other 15 campuses of The University of North Carolina system and the 59 community colleges in the state -- are expected to be sold beginning in December or January and to be issued over the next six years. Work on some of the construction and renovation projects at WCU could begin as early as spring 2001.
"It is obvious that citizens took the time to look seriously at this issue, and I want them to know that their expression of confidence in their universities and community colleges is not taken lightly," Bardo said.
"But this is only the beginning of good things to come for higher education in North Carolina," he said. "The voters have done their part by approving the bond issue. It is now incumbent upon those of us within the UNC and community college systems to uphold our end of the bargain by beginning immediately to put the funding entrusted to us to good and proper use. At Western, we will begin work on our approved repairs, renovations and construction as quickly as possible so that our outstanding faculty can deliver the type of high-quality, high-tech education that our children will require to succeed in the 21st century."
Bardo stressed the importance the bond vote has for the western part of North Carolina, and said it will mean increased educational and economic opportunity for the people of the westernmost counties of the state.
"While approval of the bond issue is key for all the people of North Carolina, it is especially critical to improving the quality of life here in the mountain region," he said. "This will enable the community colleges and the universities of the west to enhance their role in the economic and community development of this region, which will help keep our sons and daughters from moving away from homes and families to find meaningful work that pays a living wage."
The road to the Nov. 7 referendum began with the unanimous vote of the General Assembly last spring to put the bond issue on the ballot. "Again, we appreciate our legislators who worked so diligently in a bipartisan effort to keep these capital improvements moving," Bardo said.