LAURINBURG – Some residents took to social media to express concerns over Richmond Community College’s announcement of plans to expand the F. Diane Honeycutt Center into a full campus.
They say the college has a habit of acquiring buildings from the county only to abandon them or sell the properties and pocket the profits.
County leaders say the characterization is inaccurate.
The Scotland County Board of Commissioners voted this week to support RCC’s effort to create a full campus in Laurinburg. The county would provide an additional $125,000 a year to help maintain the expanded facility. As part of the expansion, RCC plans to use the former Edwin Morgan Center building for its nursing program, and offer degree programs at the Honeycutt Center.
Scotland County would finance the renovation of the Morgan Center and turn it over to the college. In return the college will reimburse part of the county’s cost through grants and lease office space to the county at a greatly reduced rate, according to County Manager Kevin Patterson.
Laurinburg Mayor Matthew Block was one of the people questioning the decision in post on The Laurinburg Exchange’s Facebook page.
“I wonder if commissioners will ask that, if one day RCC sells Morgan Center and Covington School, which the commissioners are planning to give them for free, who gets the money?” Block wrote on the newspaper site. “Wonder who got the money when RCC just auctioned off the above buildings? RCC was given those buildings too by Scotland County for free several years ago?”
But county officials said helping the college benefits Scotland County.
“What RCC is trying to do is offer more education to the citizens of Scotland County and if the Morgan Center and Covington Street fit into that goal, I support it,” said board of commissioners Chairman Carol McCall. “The history of the buildings they have occupied in the past is not relevant.”
Patterson added that it is the county’s state-mandated job to provide buildings to community colleges.
“If it was purchased, chances are the county financed the purchase because counties are responsible for the fixed assets, the buildings, for a community college,” Patterson said. “If somebody wants to say they gifted it to them, if you look at it like that, then we have gifted $50 million dollars’ worth of buildings to the school system.”
Creating a full campus in Laurinburg would allow RCC to offer students all the classes needed to earn transferable Associates of Arts and Associates of Science Degrees, according to Dale McInnis, president of Richmond Community College.
The Honeycutt Center currently offers individual college courses and two full programs: Associates in Heating and Air and a diploma program in Licensed Practical Nursing.
“The college is proud to have the support of the county, the city, the board of education, and the chamber of commerce to strengthen the training and educational opportunities for the people of Scotland County,” McInnis said “In addition to providing a permanent home for Scotland Early College High School, our goal is to make the new campus in Laurinburg a destination for the region for many, many years to come. We are excited about Scotland County’s future and our role in supporting its growth and success.”
RCC said the college acquired the Purcell Building, a former post office, by gift from the city of Laurinburg in 1987. The Speller Building and the Sanford Building, both former banks, were purchased by the college in 2000 and 2002, respectively.
The Speller building was purchased for $328,500, and the Sanford building for $137,272.
The buildings were used for developmental classes to assist students who needed to brush up on course skills before taking the Acu-placer entrance exam. They also housed a computer lab and some continuing-ed certificate classes, which were not part of any degree program, as well as a few stand-alone college courses.
The Honeycutt Center was completed summer of 2010. Following the opening of the Honeycutt, the Purcell building was used for literacy classes, HRD pre-employement classes and a few continuing-ed courses, but those services were later moved to the Honeycutt Center.
In accordance with the state’s property disposal policy, the Sanford and Speller buildings were transferred to the county in 2012.
The county gave the Sanford building to the city, and the city is using it for evidence storage for the police department and offices for detectives, according to Patterson.
The county declined to transfer the Purcell building in 2015, and it was sold at auction in 2016.
“RCC sold the building, and they did keep the money, $53,000, and put it back into capital in the Honeycutt Center, which is the way state law says they have to do it,” Patterson said.
The county auctioned off the Speller building for just under $40,000 because they could not find a suitable use for it and thought the required renovations would be too costly, according to Patterson.