FAYETTEVILLE – The Lyons Science Complex at Fayetteville State University was built in 1981, the same year IBM introduced its first personal computer. That PC weighed 28 lbs — without the monitor and keyboard — and featured a cassette player as an optional attachment. 1
A lot has changed since 1981, but Fayetteville State’s main science building is mostly the same. The Lyons Building now houses some of the most advanced disciplines at the University — nanomaterials, geographic information systems, chemistry and biology labs — in a facility designed before CDs were invented.
That’s why Gov. Pat McCrory singled out the Lyons Building in a visit to Fayetteville State in June where he touted the Connect NC Bond proposal.2 With voter approval, the bonds would offer a $10 million upgrade to the science complex.
“Students and their parents understandably expect state-of-the-art science labs and equipment,” said FSU Chancellor James Anderson. “Our current facilities cannot always compete with other institutions.”3
The $55 million that the Connect NC bond issue would devote to renovation projects is a modest effort to address a dire need across North Carolina’s public university campuses, which have a renovation and maintenance backlog of more than $2.2 billion.4
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors asked the General Assembly last year for $500 million to address a portion of that backlog – $250 million targeted at large projects postponed during the Great Recession and $250 million for ongoing maintenance.5
While undergraduate enrollment at Fayetteville State increased 7% in 2015,6 the aging infrastructure at FSU and other schools limits enrollment in some of the state’s most high-demand fields.
Fayetteville State also has the highest proportion of adult learners (those over 24) of any campus in the UNC system, at 49%.7 Many come from nearby Fort Bragg, one of the largest military bases in the country and an important source of enrollment for FSU. Those students are often drawn to technical majors, looking for a mid-career upgrade in their skills.
The Lyons Building not only serves Fayetteville State students, but also hosts science workshops and STEM camps for K-12 students and teachers across southeastern North Carolina. Regional Science Olympiad competitions are held there every year, making it a regional hub for science education.
The planetarium at FSU — also housed in the Lyons Building — welcomes more than 3,000 visitors every year, many of them elementary school students getting their first glimpse of the wider universe. The bond-supported renovation would give those students more interactive exhibits, and make the planetarium’s telescope more accessible to students.
“We have a choice,” McCrory said during his visit in June. If the Connect NC bonds aren’t issued, he said, “These projects will not be built for over a decade.
“If we wait, it’s just going to cost us more,” McCrory added. “We just delay what we know needs to be done.”8
Cumberland County’s total benefit from the Connect NC package would include $10 million for Fayetteville State University, $10.7 million for Fayetteville Technical Community College, and $5.7 million for Carver Creek State Park.
4 http://www.northcarolina.edu/sites/default/files/strategic_directions_2013-2018_0.pdf, p. 101.
5 http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=45125&code=bog, pp. 10-11, Attachments 1-2.
6 http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/index.php?mode=browse_premeeting&mid=5629&code=bog, Fall 2015 Enrollment Report, p. 15.
7 Ibid, p. 8.