Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Southwestern Community College (SCC) has $1.5 million in state funds to put into a new burn building on the Macon Campus.

The current Fire and Rescue Training Facility is located adjacent to the Public Safety Training Complex in the industrial park. The current building is a 4,100 square foot, three-story live burn building designated for a variety of training exercises. Both fire and smoke exercises can be conducted in and on the structure and rescue operations can be simulated throughout the building.

About a year ago, in September 2016, engineers evaluated the structure and told SCC and Macon County officials that the building needed to be replaced, and sooner rather than later.

The burn building replacement is on SCC’s priority list to receive funding from the Connect N.C. Bond referendum that was passed in 2016. Revenue from the bond can cover 100 percent of renovation projects, but counties are required to pay a portion of new construction projects.

SCC estimates replacing the burn building would cost $2 million — bond revenue will pay for $1.5 million and Macon County would have to contribute another $500,000. A portion of Macon County’s $500,000 can come from matching funds in the form of land, and last week, commissioners agreed to move forward with getting an appraisal on six acres of land on the Macon Campus of SCC to go toward the county’s matching requirements.

After discussions with SCC, all parties were in agreement that six acres would be sufficient to house the new Public Safety Training Facility,” said Macon County Manager Derek Roland. “Following the survey completion both Macon County and SCC will get a survey of the site. These will be used to determine the value of the property which will determine how much of the required 25 percent match the property will account for.”

SCC president Dr. Don Tomas said SCC was grateful for the partnership with Macon County and plans to move forward with the project.

““We are grateful to the Macon County Board of Commissioners for supporting the construction of our fire rescue training facility,” said Dr. Tomas. “This new structure will greatly benefit all Macon County residents because it will ensure first responders are able to receive the best possible training. Having a modern facility like this will help keep insurance costs low.”

The current burn building is pre-cast concrete and masonry brick structure supported by a slab on grade concrete foundation. The proposed building will likely be similar. The current building was constructed around 1990 and is located in a flood zone and the area around the structure floods several times a year. Both SCC and Macon County decided if a new building would be needed, it might as well also be relocated to the Macon Campus.

While SCC has identified a burn building as a priority, nothing in place mandates such a building. The community college’s fire training program does rely on it for the required course work. Emergency personnel from around Western North Carolina travel to Macon County to conduct training at Southwestern Community College Public Safety Department’s burn building, which has led some Macon leaders questioning why Macon taxpayers should foot the bill on a building that is primarily used by outside residents at no cost to the users.

After the property is appraised, Macon County will then be able to determine how much cash will need to be added to the six acres of land to account for the 25 percent of $500,000 match required by state statute for the project.