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Steve Behr / Photo by Steve Behr 

Watauga head volleyball coach Kris Hagaman (right) and junior varsity coach Sara Farley overlook a practice session. Hagaman has guided the varsity Pioneers to 200 victories in her 10-year tenure.

Photo by Thomas Sherrill 

Eric Plaag of the Boone Historical Preservation Commission speaks about his architectural survey of downtown Boone to the Boone Town Council on Sept. 17.

Boone Police advises pedestrian, school bus and traffic flow safety considerations.

Photo submitted 

Cove Creek second-graders show off their new water shoes. Pictured are Bella Baird, Ella Bridgeman, Tallulah Childers, Mason Combs, Brantley Gilliam, Kimberly Hodges, Carmen Holder, Reese Kennedy, Evie McLeod, Sophia Presnell, Laila Triplett, Lennie Trivette, Payton Woodring, Junior Argueta, Sammie Dierdorf, Chloe Reid, Carlie Buckner, Bailey Harrison, Lydia Lynch, Zoey Wells, Jolene Gobble, Jade Smith, Colin Winebarger, Tanner Welch, Alastar Triplett, Rosalee Winebarger, Scarlett Zuback and Michael Dorini with their teachers Tiffany Reece, Tricia Pfister and Calvin Cole. The group was joined by Kelly Walker and Jessica Janc.

The Rev. Rick Lawler blesses a poodle at the annual Blessing of the Animals event at St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church.

Boone council approves downtown tax district additions

BOONE — The Boone Town Council on Sept. 19 voted unanimously to expand Boone’s Municipal Service District to include nine new downtown parcels.

The vote followed a public hearing held by the council at the Sept. 17 town council meeting, where a representative of Daniel Boone Condos stated opposition to being included.

“I think we need to make the downtown cohesive,” Boone Town Council Member Lynne Mason said on Sept. 19. “I think we have good basis to include that and not delay.”

Currently consisting of 147 downtown parcels and more than 70 businesses, the Municipal Service District was established for the purpose of promoting and making physical improvements to downtown Boone. Property and business owners in the MSD are members of the Downtown Boone Development Association, which administers MSD tax revenues in coordination with the town’s downtown coordinator. The DBDA membership appoints six members to the DBDA board of directors, and the Boone Town Council appoints six other directors. The current property tax rate for the downtown Boone MSD is 21 cents per $100 valuation.

The properties approved for annexation were the Daniel Boone Condos, Faith Works Development LLC (which includes Appalachian State University’s Student Baptist Center), the Clay House on Clay Drive, the area between Clay Drive and Moretz Drive, the 6800 block of Rivers Street, owned by Templeton Properties, Rivers Walk and the elevated parking parcels accessible from Queen Street.

Boone Town Manager John Ward gave a presentation on a potential ordinance on Sept. 17, saying that the MSD was started in 1993 as part of the N.C. Main Street program. Ward said to be eligible, one-eighth of the boundary of the new property has to be bordering a current MSD district property.

Ward said including the Daniel Boone Condos would help the town use MSD tax revenue to potentially install curbs, gutters and other stormwater management improvements on the condo side of Grand Boulevard.

As far as the 6800 block of Rivers Street, Ward said the businesses in that strip have requested to be included in downtown activities, but the promotion materials could not include them since they’re not in the MSD.

The addition of the Appalachian State University Baptist Student Center building on Howard Street wouldn’t bring any new taxes due to ASU buildings being tax exempt, but Ward said that it would help when doing future street upgrades to tie in all of Depot Street and Appalachian Street, which he said are in dire need of upkeep.

Judy Davis spoke on behalf of Daniel Boone Condos property owner Jim Marsh. Davis said that the condo owners “do not assess any advantage to being placed in the district” as residential units, saying that commercial units benefit more from MSD designation.

Davis explained that the condos will be in a major repair schedule for the next three years, which will cost each owner thousands already, and while it’ll give downtown Boone a facelift, the extra tax expense isn’t desired.

However, Davis said if the MSD expansion does happen at Daniel Boone Condos, the condo owners would be interested in additional streetlights for safety, additional landscaping and improved drainage and sewer on Grand Boulevard, plus an outline of what each of their MSD taxes would specifically go toward.

Tucker Deal spoke on behalf of Rivers Walk’s Glenn Weaver, asking that the property be phased in to the MSD tax due to the brownfield designation the area currently has. MSD ordinances allow a phase-in for businesses that take over and clean up properties that are designated brownfield areas, noting the economic help it brings to the area. Ward said that the town would be agreeable to that.

Councilwoman Lynne Mason, who is co-owner of MSD member Lost Province Brewing Co., said the MSD additions could bring unity to the downtown area.

In a discussion about including vaping bans into its ordinances for AppalCART stops, the town directed Meade to write up draft ordinances to increase the smoking ban radius from building entrances or even potentially ban smoking on all downtown sidewalks.

Councilwoman Connie Ulmer brought up concerns from AppalCART regarding its ability to regulate smoking and vaping bans at its bus stops. Meade said she feels like AppalCART has the ability to regulate at its private property stops.

Speaking on adding vaping restrictions to town ordinances, AppHealthCare Director Jen Greene said that she’s in full support and that AppHealthCare offers nicotine replacement therapy and can help with offering educational components.

The discussion moved into the town’s regulations against smoking. Currently, a Boone ordinance has smoking banned within a six-foot radius of any public entrance to a facility when its open, which Mason said is too small. Meade brought up expanding the radius to 10, 15, 25 or 50 feet.

Ward said that expanding the radius of non-smoking could mean more litter if the ash trays and butt depots are that far from the building entrances. Councilman Sam, Furgiuele expressed hesitation to sidewalk smoking ordinance changes due to what he feels is a lack of enforcement of the issue.

In support, Mason said the council has a responsibility to protect the wellbeing of its citizens and said she wanted to ban smoking on town sidewalks altogether. Councilwoman Loretta Clawson said she wanted to hear from downtown business owners before enacting any new smoking regulations on town streets.

The town continued its discussion on trying to find ways to incentivize grocery stores to limit or eliminate their use of plastic bags. Steve Rigell of EarthFare talked to the council about his store’s no-plastic bags policy and said he would return to council with ideas in the future. Ward also read a letter from Publix spokesperson Kim Reynolds about the store’s plastic bag recycling containers and reusable bags.

The council voted 3-2 to approve a three-year contract for the audit services of Combs, Tennant and Carpenter of Boone with Furgiuele and Clawson voting against. Furgiuele said he wasn’t opposed to continuing working with the firm, but rather wanted to open up the bidding process. Town Manager John Ward said he would rather stick with Combs because of the upcoming Howard Street revitalization project and said a change of firms or a bidding process could result in delays of months. Councilman Marshall Ashcraft said he fundamentally agreed with Furgiuele, but said it would be best to get through the Howard Street project with Combs.

The town approved the purchase of 2.95 acres connected to the town-owned Strawberry Hill at Daniel Boone Park for $200,000. The sale is scheduled to close at the end of September or shortly thereafter. The land would be combined with the Strawberry Hill parcel for potential future projects.

Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.

$11M, 186-bed project planned for NC 105 Extension

BOONE – The former location of Modern Subaru in Boone at 199 N.C. 105 Extension could be the future home to an $11 million complex with one mixed-use building and one-multi-family building, according to a building permit application filed with the town of Boone.

The application describes the project as a “new four-story mixed-use building and one three-story multi-family building with all new parking, landscaping and infrastructure improvements.”

The current property owner is Seven Properties Boone, LLC, managed by Robert Dunn of Browns Summit. Dunn and Matt Durbin, the managing partner of Maifly Development of Pittsburgh, filed a building permit application on Aug. 13. Durbin is listed as the applicant and Dunn as the property owner.

The two buildings would be new construction, with the first estimated to be 78,232 square feet and the second estimated to be 21,102 square feet, according to the application.

The number of combined units would be 113 with 186 bedrooms. The first building would have a maximum height of 55 feet, 11 inches and the second building would be a maximum of 56 feet, per the application.

Brent Davis of the Boone-based Brent Davis Architecture is listed as the designer for the project.

According to its website, Maifly Development focuses on multifamily and student housing apartment communities and lists completed student housing projects at Cornell University, the University of Oregon and the University of Pittsburgh, among others.

When reached for comment, Durbin declined to speak on the project and Dunn did not return a message. Dunn’s realtor, Robbie Perkins of NAI Piedmont Triad in Greensboro, said the property is currently under contract to be sold and is working toward a closing in the near future.

The 2.559-acre tiered property, including the 17,740-square-foot building, has been vacant since Modern Subaru moved to its new location off U.S. 421 in 2015.

20,000 in 2020?
Amid ‘uncertain’ higher ed environment, App State sets fall 2020 enrollment target

Appalachian State is setting its sights on a fall 2020 enrollment of 20,000 students, with Chancellor Sheri Everts and other administrators noting earlier this month that continued growth is vital to the institution’s financial sustainability and its standing across the state.

Administrators spoke to the Appalachian State Board of Trustees at its Sept. 13 quarterly meeting about the university’s growth and retention metrics and strategies amid a climate of uncertainty for higher education.

“We are approaching a landmark enrollment rate of 20,000,” Everts said in her remarks to trustees. “Reaching our goal of 20,000 students will not only bring in the tuition revenue we need, it will also bolster our position in Chapel Hill and in Raleigh.

“Funding is tight for academic institutions, and the landscape for higher education is uncertain. We have all seen the recent headlines about campuses merging or closing their doors, and surveys and studies tell us this trend is likely to continue.”

This fall, Appalachian reached a total enrollment of 19,280, a 0.9 percent increase over fall 2018’s enrollment of 19,108, according to figures from the University of North Carolina system. Cindy Barr, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at Appalachian, noted in the trustees’ Academic Affairs Committee meeting that this semester, the university’s main campus enrollment topped 18,000 for the first time (Appalachian’s total enrollment number includes students enrolled online and in other off-campus programs).

Hitting 20,000 in fall 2020 would mean an increase of 720 students, or 3.7 percent, over this year’s enrollment, Appalachian State spokesperson Megan Hayes said.

Systemwide, total fall 2019 enrollment at UNC’s 16 public university campuses increased by 1.3 percent over last year, for a total of 239,987 students, according to a Sept. 18 announcement from the system. Undergraduate enrollment grew by 0.9 percent, with graduate students increasing at a greater rate, at 2.6 percent.

Ten campuses grew their enrollments by rates ranging from 0.4 percent (UNC-Greensboro) to 7.9 percent (UNC-Pembroke), while the six campuses with shrinking enrollments declined by rates of -0.2 percent (East Carolina) to -4.3 percent (UNC-Asheville).

“At a time when attendance at other universities is declining, our enrollment continues to break records,” UNC System Interim President Bill Roper said in a statement. “We are delivering unparalleled education that is more affordable and more accessible to more people.”

But the number of incoming first-year students and transfers fell slightly across the UNC system, which coincides with a slowdown in the growth of high school graduating classes and a stronger job market, the system said.

Appalachian’s first-year class grew to 3,501 (up from 3,445 in fall 2018), but, Barr said, “We were hoping to be closer to 3,650 this fall.”

“Appalachian is one of the few in the system to have growth,” Barr said. “There is a market disruption in North Carolina.”

The number of new transfer students fell from 1,568 students in fall 2018 to 1,449, according to data from Appalachian’s office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning. Barr attributed the decline in part to market competition with the UNC system’s three “NC Promise” universities, which guarantee tuition costs of $500 per semester. The three NC Promise campuses — UNC Pembroke, Elizabeth City State and Western Carolina — grew total enrollments by rates of 7.9 percent, 5.7 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively, according to UNC system data.

Of 16,579 applications received by Appalachian for the 2019-20 term, the university accepted 12,779, according to Alexis Pope, director of admissions.

Nationwide, higher education leaders have been calling attention to a decline in birth rates and what that trend could portend for higher ed institutions.

Nathan Grawe, an economist at Carleton College in Minnesota, predicted last year that the college-going population would drop by 15 percent between 2025 and 2029 and continue to decline by another percentage point or two thereafter, according to a September 2018 article by The Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on education.

“When the financial crisis hit in 2008, young people viewed that economic uncertainty as a cause for reducing fertility,” Grawe told the publication. “The number of kids born from 2008 to 2011 fell precipitously. Fast forward 18 years to 2026 and we see that there are fewer kids reaching college-going age.”

Figures and projections from the National Center for Education Statistics and other groups indicate that high school graduate numbers have already begun to stagnate in recent years.

Putting additional pressures on UNC university budgets are state appropriations that haven’t kept up with inflation, according to a study by the left-leaning think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which found that after adjusting for inflation, total per-student spending on higher education in North Carolina fell by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018.

And in recent years, the state legislature and UNC system Board of Governors have enacted policies limiting campuses’ ability to increase their tuition rates. Tuition costs at Appalachian have remained at $4,242 per year for the past three years.

“We have to grow now,” said Lee Barnes, trustee. “To meet our budget, we have to have paying customers, and that’s what enrollment does.”

Barr said that Appalachian State’s enrollment and admissions staff are implementing several strategies to meet the university’s enrollment goals.

“If birth rates are dropping, how do we get a bigger share of graduates to come to Appalachian?” Barr said.

Appalachian is adding a new admissions counselor and expanding opportunities for campus visits, including Saturday tours. Applicants will be allowed to self-report their SAT scores — to be verified by the university later — which will lead to more completed applications, Barr said. If the policy had been in place this year, an estimated 600 more applications could have been submitted by the early action deadline, she said, including more racially under-represented and low-income students.

Barr said the university was also looking at providing scholarship offers and financial aid packages to families earlier in the admissions process.

Trustee Charles Murray asked how the university would accomplish its enrollment growth goals without compromising on its admissions standards. Barr replied that while the university continues to consider traditional metrics such as GPA and SAT scores, it has adopted a holistic review process for applicants that takes other measures into account, such as student activities, interests, extenuating circumstances and resiliency.

“Our mission is to serve the citizens of North Carolina,” Barr said. “If we see a small shift in our academic profile, it does not mean those students won’t be successful here.”

Michael Behrent, chair of the Faculty Senate, expressed concerns from faculty members about the potential implications for university employees if the campus isn’t able to reach its goals.

“Looking forward, there is that concern about the impact that this kind of growth could have on student quality,” Behrent said. “Also, among faculty, there is anxiety about the university’s need, because of financial reasons ... to grow in this very competitive environment to get students that we seem to be entering.”

Provost Darrell Kruger noted that with steady increases in enrollment, Appalachian has continued to invest in full-time faculty positions and has maintained a 16:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

According to The Hechinger Report, “Grawe argues that colleges might be able to avoid closures and budget shortfalls if they can reduce their dropout rates and focus on keeping students — and their tuition dollars — on campus.”

“Expect more colleges to launch ‘student retention’ and ‘student success’ initiatives,” the article stated.

The UNC system pointed to improved retention rates in this week’s announcement: “A major factor contributing to record enrollment is improved student retention across the system,” it said. “The data suggest stronger retention of students at UNC system institutions and other improvements that help students graduate in a timely fashion.”

Appalachian’s retention rate (the percentage of first-year students who remain enrolled a year later) is 88 percent, Everts said, which is up from 87.2 percent last year, well above the national average and third overall in the UNC system.