Saturday, December 9, 2023

CFCC advances on Bank of America building construction, but leadership concerns linger

The Cape Fear Community College unanimously approved a motion for phase two of the new Health and Human Services building. (Port City Daily/Peter Castagno)

WILMINGTON — The Cape Fear Community College board of trustees passed unanimous motions to advance three development projects Thursday.

They’re moving forward with phase two construction of the Health and Human Sciences building, formerly the Bank of America building, as well as approved expanding CFCC’s Surf City facility and renovating the campus L Building, located at Red Cross and Second streets. 

The Surf City facility in Pender County will cost roughly $4 million and allow for engine repair and welding space, as well as increased classroom volume. CFCC spokesperson Sonya Johnson told Port City Daily the college has not yet chosen design or construction contractors for the project.

“It’s basically going to double the size of that facility,” she said. 

The board approved a motion for Thomas Construction’s renovations for the campus’ L Building. Johnson said the total budget for the project was $2,899,985. Thomas Construction executive vice president Jim Hundley told Port City Daily it was too early in the process to offer details about the cost of the project. 

“We’ve not even started the project except for qualification,” he said. “No more has been awarded than a verbal award that we’re going to work with the community college to try to achieve their budget for these renovations.”

He said he hopes there will be a kickoff meeting with the development team in the next few weeks. He does not anticipate construction to begin until summer 2024.

Johnson said the board approved a total budget of $9,154,180 for phase two of the HHS building and will now move to negotiations with Wilmington-based Bowman Murray Hemingway Architects PC, a contractor selected for the project. The company will renovate the entire fourth and fifth floors. 

New Hanover County used its fund balance to make the $11.4 million purchase of the Bank of America building in April, for CFCC to address the local nursing shortage. CFCC is leasing the property from the county and will eventually attain ownership. 

Wilmington-based Monteith Construction led construction for the $3 million phase one which Johnson said involves creating two classrooms to facilitate the university’s nursing expansion. It is anticipated to be completed in December. 

The community college plans to move into the building in January 2024, according to CFCC’s communications director Christina Hallingse. 

The purpose of the facility is to provide more space for CFCC’s rapidly growing nursing program. Hallingse said it has almost tripled in size over the last three years; the building also will eventually house the community college’s dental clinic.

Yet, controversy has surrounded the project in multiple ways. Former Trustee Jimmy Hopkins was removed from the board after questioning the fast timeline of the project.

As well, state auditor Beth Wood expressed uncertainty about the legality of the financial transaction used to purchase the building, as New Hanover Board of Commissioners approved the purchase before performing appraisal, inspection, and environmental studies. 

The issues are compounded by concerns surrounding the president’s leadership and an ongoing civil suit by former Trustee Ray Funderburk.

“You disagree? Off with your head,” Hopkins told Port City Daily in a description of the board’s culture. “Pretty much the mentality.”

Former New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman unseated Hopkins in 2022, citing his absence from three consecutive board meetings as reason for termination. Hopkins maintains the “catalyst” for his removal was his resistance to CFCC President Jim Morton’s plans to purchase the former Bank of America building to transform it into the CFCC Health and Human Sciences building. Despite being chair of the board’s facilities committee at the time, Hopkins claims the president kept him out of the loop on the plan.

Hopkins filed retaliatory litigation before dropping charges in October 2022. The rationale for removing him — missing three consecutive meetings — is questionable. A PCD review found board member Bruce Moscowitz missed eight meetings between July 2020 and July 2022, the same amount as Hopkins in the period. According to WHQR, Moscowitz also missed three consecutive meetings in November 2020, January 2021, and March 2021, but remains on the board.

Shortly after Hopkins’ removal, the NHC Board of Commissioners unanimously approved almost $12 million for the purchase in October 2022; later that month, the president claimed to Wilmington Business Journal the building sale was unrelated to Hopkins’ termination and said he was uninvolved in the decision. 

Hopkins told Port City Daily he thought CFCC’s health and human services program definitely needed more space, but wanted to first consider other options due to the $14 million projected cost of renovating the five-story, 55,000-square-foot building at 319 N. Third St.

“It’s an incredible program,” he said. “But I said: ‘Why have we not looked at excess land in North Campus?’”

The former Bank of America building deal was brought to the county by Cape Fear Commercial; co-founder Brian Eckel put the building under contract from Cisco Acquisitions LLC and argued the county’s investment in the property would help address the local nursing shortage. 

Hill Rogers of Cameron Management represented the owner, Riverbend #1 LLC, and mayor pro tem of Wrightsville Beach, Hank Miller, represented Cape Fear Commercial, where he is also vice president. 

The Local Government Commission — the state appointed institution to oversee major financial transactions for municipal and county governments — approved the transaction 6-2 in June after state auditor Wood and several members expressed concerns regarding the deal’s legality. 

State Treasurer Dale Folwell voted against the purchase. He has been critical of Cape Fear Commercial’s involvement in other local public-private partnerships, including the county’s Project Grace development and the newly built government center (the latter has been the subject of recent controversy after the county’s authorization of the eminent domain purchase of Cheetah strip club to create additional parking for the county). 

“It seems like the biggest transactions that happen in that community this century, have all had his fingerprint,” Folwell said in reference to Eckel.

Folwell also expressed disapproval of former Trustee Hopkins’ removal.

“It should never be a job requirement for any members of the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees, that they ask no questions and challenge no assumptions,” he said.

Hopkins told Port City Daily he believes scrutiny of CFCC is important because state universities are unaffordable for many students and community college is their only access to higher education.

“Whether you’re studying to be a hairdresser or you’re getting a two year degree to transfer into another college,” he said. “[It] makes huge savings to families and like I said the only means that some kids have — and adults.”

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at

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