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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Leaders strike a blow against mediocrity

Board of Commissioners approved the design for Joint Medical Education Campus and Pardee Cancer Center. Board of Commissioners approved the design for Joint Medical Education Campus and Pardee Cancer Center.

In praise of the joint medical education building and cancer center on the Pardee Hospital campus, an architect, the new tenants and county leaders used words like transformative (twice), state of the art (many times), legacy, once in a lifetime  and even "magic."


No, this was not Disney World. But if the reverie sounded a bit over the top, we'll give the leaders a pass. The $32 million, 95,000-square-foot health-ed center truly is transformative, and not just for the three partners — Wingate University, Blue Ridge Community College and Pardee Hospital — or because of its attractive and creative design.
It's transformative because the process that led to elected leaders' assent on Wednesday morning has demolished longstanding assumptions about our politics. The art of the possible has bequeathed us mediocre public buildings that are obsolete on the day they open, under-designed for functions they're supposed to house and just plain boring. This time, the Board of Commissioners confronted the frightening prospect of buying a Cadillac and decided that, yes, we can afford it, and, yes, their bosses the voters will be happy with the ride.
County Manager Steve Wyatt urged the commissioners to take the long view, consider their legacy and be a part of something that will boost the economy for years to come. JMEC (for Joint Medical Education Campus, because C sounds better than F) fulfills BRCC's classroom and lab needs, anchors Wingate in Hendersonville for a generation and creates a state-of-the-art cancer center, Wyatt said. "There are a lot of birds being killed by this stone," he said.
"This will be on the par (with) or exceed any type of facility on any campus in the state of North Carolina," Wyatt told the board, closing the sale. "We're bringing to you a dream, a possibility.
"We haven't cut a lot of corners in this process, to be honest with you. In the conversations I've had with each of you, we talked about a legacy, and it's the legacy of this project, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for each of you here."
The self-described taxpayer watchdog caucus of the Republican Party — commissioners Grady Hawkins and Larry Young — emphatically endorsed the new building as an investment worth making despite its higher cost. The low interest rates and contractor hunger that has helped the county build many capital projects over the past eight years is helping make this project doable again. Assistant County Manager Amy Brantley and Finance Director Carey McLelland walked the commissioners through a financing plan that requires no property tax increase.
By not settling for something smaller, cheaper and drabber, the county commissioners took a bold step. The only other two projects we recall that have exceeded the bare minimum were the Historic Courthouse renovation and the Law Enforcement Center. Cutting corners and settling for the politically sellable brought us the undercapacity Thomas Auditorium, the boxy, uninspired Blue Ridge Conference Hall and the dysfunctional Grove Street Courthouse.
If JMEC lives up to its promise, students, teachers, doctors and patients will benefit for years to come. No, they won't know of the rare political synergy and spirit of cooperation that made it possible. But some visitor who first encounters it might stop for a moment, look around in wonder and think, "Someone had the good sense to come up with this idea and this town's leaders had the temerity to say yes." That doesn't happen often when it comes to public buildings in these parts. It was good to see that for once quality and vision carried the day.