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State House approves UNCSA dormitory construction bill

The state House approved legislation Tuesday that would allow UNC School of the Arts to build a $46 million, 444-bed dormitory on its campus.

The UNCSA project was inserted into House Bill 402, titled “UNC Capital Projects,” joining similar infrastructure projects at UNC Wilmington and Western Carolina University.

The House voted 93-5 in favor of the bill on the third reading. It was approved on the second reading last week by 112-3 vote. Because the bill involves financing, it required waiting a day, per legislative rules, before the third reading.

HB402 now goes to the Senate. If funding is approved, the goal is to start construction at UNCSA in late 2020 and be open for the 2021 fall semester.

The project also involves the tearing down of Residence Hall A-F and the Bailey Street Apartments complex. The Bailey complex would be demolished first to clear space for the project. Once the new dorm is built, Residence Hall A-F would be demolished.

The planned dorm would give UNCSA a net gain of 64 beds on its Winston-Salem campus.

Officials said the dorm is necessary to attract students wanting education and training in the arts. It will offer a mix of apartment-style and suites housing. The latter would be the first such residential option on campus.

The UNC board of governors signed off on the request May 21, in large part because UNCSA said the construction and maintenance cost of the new dorm would be covered primarily by student housing rental fees, also known as self-liquidating debt. The per-month cost of the housing would be in the $835 to $878 range, compared with about $700 now.

“It’s time to enhance the living and learning environment for our students with contemporary and up-to-date housing,” Jim DeCristo, UNCSA’s vice chancellor for economic development and chief of staff, said in a statement.

“It is clear that our existing residence halls are not meeting our students’ needs, and we know that suite-style housing is what students prefer,” DeCristo said.

Center Stage Apartments, with 178 beds for upper-class, graduate and international students, would not be affected by the project.

UNCSA officials said the new dormitory could entice more juniors and seniors to remain on campus for housing.

End of a 'dream': Losing millions for years, the American Hebrew Academy closes

GREENSBORO — After Tuesday’s announcement of the sudden closing of the American Hebrew Academy, an elite international Jewish boarding school off Hobbs Road, Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel spent the morning in prayer and on the phone.

“The academy was a great school,” Guttman said. “Academically superior.”

The luxurious 100-acre campus also enabled the city to attract more Jewish families and professionals, he added.

“But today in our congregation we have seven families, who, when they woke up this morning, thought that this was going to be a good day ... and they had the rug pulled out from them,” Guttman said.

The private school’s board voted to close the campus immediately for financial reasons, according to an email sent Tuesday to staff, students and alumni. The school was losing millions annually.

“The American Hebrew Academy began as a dream,” wrote Glenn Drew, the school’s executive director. “It has been a dream fulfilled for 18 years, and it is a dream that must unfortunately come to an end.”

Most school employees will be unemployed as of today.

The campus opened in 2001 flush with money from businessman and philanthropist Maurice “Chico” Sabbah. BusinessWeek magazine estimated his donations were $100 million at the time.

In a 2002 interview with Forbes, Sabbah said the school had $50 million in the bank, which would cover 10 years of operating expenses.

In the early 2000s, the academy was entangled in a billion-dollar fraud suit that involved Sabbah, his company Fortress Re and a business partner. The school continued to operate, drawing students from around the world.

With Tuesday’s announcement, it’s unclear the number of students and faculty that have been affected or what will happen to the 100-acre property. The academy was home to a lavish boarding school and an $11.6 million athletics center and pool. Every classroom in the science building had a smart board that could function as a conventional blackboard or as a computer connected to the internet.

Built to educate the best and brightest Jewish teenagers from around the world — tuition was roughly $40,000 this school year — the academy lost money every year from 2006 to 2017, according to tax data reviewed by the News & Record.

During the 2016-17 school year, the academy had $5 million in revenue and $18 million in expenses — a $13 million loss.

During the 2015-16 school year, the loss was $9.7 million.

Contributions and grants dropped from almost $3 million in the 2015-16 school year to $404,000 in 2016-17.

As word spread Tuesday through online chat rooms and social media, many were shocked and concerned for students expected to return this fall.

The school’s final class — 34 seniors — graduated from the academy on May 27. Enrollment this year was 134 in a school initially built for 400.

“The school didn’t seem sustainable because it was a huge campus and just a few of us,” said Sofia Sabet, who graduated in May and is headed to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. “But we all thought our kids would be able to go there, that our grandkids would be able to go there.”

Sabet has started a Gofundme account she hopes will attract the attention of big-dollar donors who can help keep the school open or at least provide a financial cushion for staff, some of whom lived on campus with their families.

Effort to repeal law that limits property owners' rights in road issues advances

The latest attempt to repeal the Map Act, which allows the state to designate highway corridors and limit property rights in the path of future roadways, is headed to the Senate floor.

After being recommended by the Senate Transportation committee, the bill gained Rules and Operations approval Tuesday.

The bill cleared the state House by a 114-0 vote April 3.

A similar bill cleared the House in the 2015 session, but was not taken up in the Senate.

If the House measure eventually becomes law, the legislation would end the N.C. Transportation Department’s ability to designate corridors for future highway construction — including the path of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway.

Forsyth Reps. Debra Conrad and Donny Lambeth, both GOP, and GOP Sen. Joyce Krawiec and Democratic Sen. Paul Lowe are co-primary sponsors of their respective bills.

The Map Act is under fire from critics who say that it essentially takes land from property owners without compensation — a view upheld by the N.C. Court of Appeals when it ruled in favor of a group of landowners in the path of the beltway.

Those landowners and others across the state have filed suit saying that the state must compensate them for placing development limits and other restrictions on their properties through the Map Act. DOT has begun in recent months paying landowners for properties in the beltway’s path.

Conrad has said repealing the Map Act would give the state time to come up with a better method of road planning.

“The moratorium expires July 1, so this bill needs to be signed this month,” Conrad said.

She said that she expects Gov. Roy Cooper will do that.

Krawiec said repealing the map act “has been a priority for me since I arrived at the Senate six years ago. I believe the Senate will pass the bill quickly.”

“These families, many that have waited for decades, can now have closure and satisfaction that this will not happen to others.

“Properties will no longer be allowed to be held in limbo, and citizens will not be asked to carry the burden of maintaining current prices for future NCDOT construction.”