Blue Ridge Community College is closing in on purchasing 18 acres of land next to its Flat Rock campus for future expansion.


BRCC President Laura Leatherwood updated the Henderson County Board of Commissioners during their budget workshop Wednesday on an opportunity to expand the campus next to South Allen Road.


The land includes two parcels located between the campus and South Allen Road bordering Interstate 26. The land is across East Campus Drive from the baseball field and borders the Innovative High Schools.


Leatherwood said the opportunity came up for the Board of Trustees to purchase the land from two property owners. She added that trustees have been trying to purchase the property for 20 years.


The Board of Trustees have negotiated with the families in a closed environment to purchase the property for $750,000, Leatherwood said. The college has signed a contract for the purchase, currently doing due diligence and could close within six months.


“If you look at the growth of the college, that is the likely area where growth and expansion will take place,” Leatherwood said. “Right now we do not have any immediate plans for the property, but we’re fearful if we don’t acquire this, we will lose that opportunity in the future for the college.”


Trustees have allotted $250,000 from the college and foundation funds and are requesting the remaining $500,000 from Henderson County.


The land acquisition will not require an increase in property taxes. Last year, commissioners set aside 2 cents on the property tax rate to go towards renovation and construction at BRCC.


The college worked with county staff to re-prioritize its needs to fit in the property purchase as part of the 2-cent allotment. The largest change included a reduction in pavement and parking lot repair from $463,000 to $271,000 in addition to smaller items that have been moved down the list.


“We have vetted all those projects and think we can wait,” Leatherwood said. “We just really feel we cannot pass up this opportunity.”


Schools, BRCC budget requests


Henderson County Public Schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell presented a penciled-in budget request of $31.3 million for the 2020-21 school year, which includes a $1.475-million increase for salary, retirement and insurance adjustments.


The school system gets the majority of its funding from state tax dollars. Mapping out next year’s local budget request from the county has been difficult for Caldwell, as state legislators and Gov. Roy Cooper have still not approved a budget for this year.


“What I’m trying to do is basically give you numbers on something that I’m not sure will happen; if it does happen, I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it might happen,” said Caldwell.


Caldwell’s request includes $1.2 million in what he calls uncontrollable expenses: salary, retirement and insurances increases.


Two-hundred full-time employees in the school system are locally funded. When state-funded positions have salary, retirement or insurance increases, the locally funded positions must be matched.


An additional $275,000 million is for “recruitment and retention” – a .25-percent increase to the local salary supplement for all school system employees.


Caldwell also noted that energy costs have increased despite the school system’s effort to save energy. He noted the new Edneyville Elementary, equipped with the school system’s first air-conditioned full-sized gym, is likely to increase energy costs.


The request includes the usual $1 million in capital improvement projects throughout the school system, as well as $500,000 in safety enhancements.


Caldwell noted that this request is only the superintendent’s request. The School Board will further discuss the budget during the spring. He promised to fight as hard as he could to bring that number down.


Blue Ridge Community College is requesting $7.87 million from Henderson County for next year’s fiscal year budget.


It’s a $453,152 increase in operating costs from the current year’s $4.41-million appropriation from the county.