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County to pursue facility for Wingate

Wingate University officials say they have outgrown the building the college leases at 220 N. King St. Wingate University officials say they have outgrown the building the college leases at 220 N. King St.

Henderson County commissioners this morning triggered a search for a facility for Wingate University, unanimously directing the county staff to "formulate a plan to locate a facility for Wingate and to work with Wingate University in whatever direction they take."

 

The motion by Commissioner Larry Young capped a short public discussion after County Manager Steve Wyatt had conducted behind-the-scenes talks with Wingate officials for several months. Wingate officials have also had discussions with Blue Ridge Community College about partnering on some existing or new programs in health sciences, education and other areas.

Wingate president Jerry McGee confirmed the university's interest in its own building, preferrably a new or newly renovated 25,000-square-foot facility with high-tech amenities. McGee said he has talked a couple of times over lunch with Blue Ridge Community College president Molly Parkhill about the potential for partnering on programs that would lead to bachelors or graduate degrees.

Wingate now offers a graduate program in business and pharmacy and physican assistant training in two buildings on King Street in downtown Hendersonville. "It's no secret that we've outgrown our current space," he said. It currently leases 11,000 square feet of space in the former Coldwell Banker building and 2,000 square feet next door in the HomeTrust bank building.

Ideally, Wingate would like to have "a dedicated state-of-the-art high- tech facility which would take care of our current and future needs," McGee said.

Commissioners strongly endorsed the hunt for a new facility.

"Wingate has been a bonanza for helping our young people get off on a career," said Commissioner Grady Hawkins. "I would hope maybe our staff would be able to take a look at some of our parameters to see what we could do about helping with expansion plans."

Messer added: "We'll do whatever we can as quick as we can to make all this become possible."

McGee said Wingate would accept new or renovated space, as long as it's high tech and convenient.

"If you've ever been to Wingate, everything is new or nearly new," he said.

McGee said he could not reach Mayor Barbara Volk, who is out of the country, but spoke with City Manager John Connet and let him know that Wingate was talking with Henderson County.

"Our kids love downtown and the faculty loves downtown," he said. "But a nice high-tech facility is where I want to be. ... We have a great relationship" with the city. "I talked to John Connet. He was very understanding. He said 'you've got to do what's best for your school.'"

McGee said Wingate's current enrollment of 127 is likely to grow as the college looks at adding nursing, physical therapy and possibly school administration graduate degrees for principals and administrators. It currently has  17 fulltime and 10 parttime employees. The 17 FT employees make in excess of $100,000 a year.

Wingate is mindful, he said, of other small colleges including Brevard and Mars Hill and does not want to duplicate what they offer.

Wingate has looked at building a new facility, buying a building or renting but has not found something suitable. If the county builds a facility for Wingate, the college would be open to a long-term lease. "We expect to pay rent," he said.