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Residents cite concern as NCCU expansion begins

North Carolina Central University, in the beginning stages of a $121 million campus expansion, may significantly increase its enrollment, but some local residents will be forced to relocate.

In order to make the expansion possible, NCCU has begun acquiring 29 properties adjacent to the university in the vicinity of what used to be Hillside High School.

NCCU administrators said they have received mostly positive feedback from the residents who will be affected. "They are very supportive of the university expanding and understand the need for the university to expand," said Mozell Robinson Knight, assistant vice chancellor for financial affairs.

The university plans to construct a 120,000-square-foot science complex, a large suite-style dormitory for undergraduates and a smaller apartment complex for graduate students. A November 2000 bond referendum approved by voters for higher education construction projects in North Carolina will fund the projects. In addition, some of the money will be earmarked for smaller renovation projects across campus.

Rosemary Johnson, a longtime resident of the neighborhood and retired NCCU employee, agreed with the need for expansion, but said she felt the process will unnecessarily force a large number of residents to move. "Why couldn't they consider two campuses, and use shuttle buses, as Duke does?" she asked.

Several residents also complained that NCCU has not done well communicating its plans to residents.

"I thought they should have gotten the community involved when the bond [referendum] was passed," Johnson said. Instead, administrators waited to present NCCU's master plan to the community at a town meeting in February.

Dr. Charles Watts, a 47-year resident of the neighborhood, felt that even the meeting was poorly planned. He said NCCU invited more people to the meeting than the room could accommodate--over 300 were in attendance--and as a result, he had difficulty seeing the presentation.

Knight explained that misunderstanding from the first meeting led to concerns among residents that the relocation timetable is being rushed. "The presentation indicated negotiations would be finished by the end of June, but neighbors thought displacement would be finished by the end of June," Knight said.

She added that the university sent personal letters to each resident explaining the mix-up.

Despite residents' concerns, however, the expansion is moving forward.

The State Property Office, responsible for negotiating all of the state's land acquisitions, has recently reached agreement for three properties.

Bobby Poole, general real estate manager of the State Property Office, said the office only began to make offers last week. Poole expected all agreements will be finalized by the end of July, and that residents and tenants will vacate their homes by the end of November.

The expansion will be necessary, administrators said, because of a drive to increase enrollment. The university's master plan forecasts an enrollment rise from 5,400 now to 8,000 by 2008.

"We're looking to attract new students from across the country and across the world," said Don Allen, NCCU's director of capital programs.

This expansion is only the first phase in NCCU's master plan. The trustees will meet in several weeks to decide whether to approve a second phase of the project, which would entail a much more extensive purchase of 82 additional nearby properties. The school has not yet secured funding for the second phase, but nevertheless, many residents have already begun to worry about their future.

"As far as any residence, I don't know where else I'd prefer to live," Watts said, who may be forced to leave his Lawson Street home should future expansion plans come to fruition. "[I'd] never say never, but I'm pretty comfortable here."

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