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‘Give everybody an opportunity’: Community college president pitches bond referendum to Salisbury Rotary Club

SALISBURY — There’s no need to for Rowan County to “stay poor” when opportunity is just a “yes” vote away, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College President Carol Spalding told the Salisbury Rotary Club on Tuesday.

Spalding, pitching a $45 million bond referendum for a technology education complex, was joined by welding student Grace Peters, bond campaign co-chairman Paul Brown and Sarah Walker, the college’s chief officer of governance, advancement and community relations.

If the bond referendum passes on the March 3rd primary ballot, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College plans to build a 105,000 square-foot complex that will house robotics, welding, advanced machining and automotive technology programs. The college says it could renovate existing space for welding, machining and automotive programs for other technical education areas after new construction wraps up. The bond would also build a fire decontamination facility and a building for Rowan County Early College and dual-enrollment students.

Tuesday’s presentation noted county government hadn’t invested in a new building at the school in decades, the projected 3-cent property tax increase is equivalent to $3.50 per month on an average-value home in Rowan County ($140,000) and that high school diplomas are no longer enough to get a good-paying job. Community colleges, Spalding said, represent the best investment a community can make.

“We do not need to stay poor here. We do not need to. Cabarrus County’s not staying poor,” she said. “Let’s not stay poor either. Let’s give everybody an opportunity.”

As an example of the opportunity that comes with the bond referendum, Peters said the school would go from 29 welding stalls to 70 — more than double. This year, she said, Rowan-Cabarrus had to turn away 23 potential welding students because it didn’t have enough space in the program.

Saying he wanted to give a simple example of the bond referendum’s benefits, Salisbury Rotary Club President Steve Fisher asked the crowd whether they’d like to double the number of people like Peters who graduate from the school. The answer was a clear “yes.”

Peters is a second-year welding student who chose the program because she enjoys working with her hands and, she said, like the idea that her future office won’t look like a typical desk job. She entered the program with no knowledge of welding and now enjoys it, saying she feels accepted as a woman in a male-dominated field.

“Even though the welding lab we have is not as advanced as it could be and it is extremely hot, as you can imagine, and the air ventilation is not the best, our instructors work incredibly well with what we have,” Peters said. “If we had more welding booths, we could have bigger class sizes and many more students, possibly other females.”

Already, the bond referendum has received support from the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, the Rowan-Salisbury School System and the Rowan-Cabarrus Community college foundation board and board of directors.

Former Salisbury High School Principal Windsor Eagle said during a question and answer session that there needs to be “a tremendous vote in favor” of the bond so that county commissioners will consider its support when there are other capital funding requests.

“We need to be the ambassadors for this. We need to elbow our neighbors here and there, whether it’s at the table or wherever,” Eagle said. “Let’s get folks to support this and show that Rowan County supports the community college. And, by golly, we need to support the public schools.”

Spalding said construction could start almost immediately after the college receives an OK via March’s bond referendum. If the measure is approved in March, construction would be done in fall 2024, she said.

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