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Is $30 million enough for NCCU's new business school? How much more does it want?

Harry Smith says he was asked to look into parking, housing and dining operations at N.C. Central University in Durham.
Harry Smith says he was asked to look into parking, housing and dining operations at N.C. Central University in Durham. File photo

N.C. Central University leaders hope to secure another $8.6 million from the state to put toward the construction of a new business school that's already partly financed by a bond issue voters approved in 2016.

The request would translate into nearly a 29 percent addition to the project's budget, an increase NCCU officials want to implement regardless. They're assuming they'll have to cover it from the university's reserves if state legislators don't come through with more funding.

"Right off the bat, we were pretty sure [$30 million] wasn't going to be enough money because we actually submitted a significantly larger request" in 2016 for the Connect N.C. bond program, said Jonathan Peeler, associate vice chancellor for facilities management.

And while NCCU could build the facility for $30 million, "that wouldn't give us all the elements we want in" it, Chancellor Johnson Akinleye told campus trustees recently.

The new building is supposed to occupy the northwestern corner of East Lawson Street and N.C. 55, and open in time for the fall semester in 2021.

It's a replacement for the Willis Commerce Building, a 1956-vintage structure N.C. Central officials believe the School of Business has outgrown.

The $30 million in Connect N.C. money already pledged to the project would come from the statewide bond issue former Gov. Pat McCrory and other state leaders convinced voters to support in the spring of 2016.

The additional money NCCU is asking for would have to come via a direct appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly. Campus officials think the UNC system will eventually help marshal support for the move, but the ultimate decision belongs to legislators.

To date, they've been content with earmarking just the $30 million in bond money to the project. Gov. Roy Cooper's fiscal 2017-18 budget request sought an additional $2 million for it, but the proposal didn't gain traction in either the state House or state Senate.

On the contrary, legislators showed more enthusiasm last summer for the idea of helping the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill replace its building, which dates from 1997. They allotted $1 million in initial planning money to that project in the 2017-18 state budget.

Both business schools have argued that they need new and better facilities if they're to expand enrollment.

Peeler said the idea the NCCU project needs a $38.6 million budget comes from the university's work with the building's designer, Vines Architecture.

Its opinion is that "for $30 million, we would not be able to get a building that's suitable for our program," Peeler said.

Akinleye said officials asked for and got from the architect three options, the third being a $33 million plan.

The $38.6 million option "will give us all of the things that we really wanted," including room for facilities the business school's Hospital & Tourism Management program needs that could otherwise remain scattered elsewhere on campus, he said.

Peeler added that NCCU administrators also favor placing "some retail and food options" in the building because current plans for a Durham-to-Orange light-rail system call for putting a station close to the Lawson/55 site.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg