RALEIGH — The largest capital improvement in the University of North Carolina system would be made in Pembroke under a Senate bill approved early this morning.
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is set to receive $10 million to renovate and re-purpose the West Hall buildings and $100,000 for a study on the feasibility of establishing a school of applied health sciences and health care. The budget also includes $250,000 for Lumberton and $100,000 for Pembroke for downtown renovation.
“It’s going to pass through the Senate,” Sen. Danny Britt, of Lumberton, said a few hours before that happened. “I have no doubt that every provision I have in there for Robeson will go through. I have leadership behind me, backing me. I’ve been working closely with Brenden Jones on the House side. … I am confident he can get it through on the House side.”
Britt and Rep. Jones, both Republicans, have worked closely this session.
“We are grateful Sen. Danny Britt and his colleagues recognize UNC Pembroke’s impact in Southeastern North Carolina and our important role as an anchor institution for regional economic development,” said Dr. Robin Gary Cummings, UNCP’s chancellor. “We appreciate the Senate’s proposal to fully fund the NC Promise Tuition Plan, which would allow the university to advance our longstanding mission of providing access to higher education.”
The NC Promise Tuition Plan is an initiative to reduce in-state tuition costs to $500 per semester and out-of-state tuition to $2,500 per semester beginning in the fall of 2018.
The study to determine the feasibility of establishing a school of allied health science and health care at UNCP will consider what health care needs are most pressing in the region, and the cost and financial benefits.
“The way it played out was, I went after an optometry school at UNCP, prior to appropriating the money the General Assembly wants to see whether it is economically feasible,” Britt said.
The results of the study could lead to an optometry school at the university, a nurse practitioner program, physical therapy or any of several other fields.
“Health care is a big umbrella,” Britt said. “It allows for a lot of options down the road.”
Cummings, a former heart surgeon, is aware of the health challenges in the region.
“As a physician, I can attest to the critical health-care shortages facing our region,” Cummings said. “The Senate budget would address this vital issue by providing for a study of how UNC Pembroke can meet area workforce needs and ultimately move the needle on health outcomes.”
The $100,000 for Pembroke’s town would benefit it as well as the campus, which is adjacent.
“With having UNCP located there, I want, when people go to Pembroke for the first time, I want it to look the best that it can,” Britt said.
Britt said he reached out to the municipalities in his district of Columbus and Robeson counties and asked if they had specific needs for funding, and Lumberton and Pembroke responded with requests for their downtowns.
Lumberton is set to receive $100,000 for downtown projects and $150,000 to repair damage to the riverwalk caused by Hurricane Matthew.
Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis praised Britt.
“I think everyone should be mighty grateful to a young senator who can bring that kind of money into the area,” Davis said.
The city and the Rediscover Downtown Lumberton group has “great plans” for the investment in downtown and the riverwalk, the mayor said.
“We are going to meet soon and talk about all of that,” Davis said.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly