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The Daily Tar Heel

Bill Aims to Lessen Growing Pains

If the N.C. General Assembly passes House Bill 623, it could have major implications for UNC-system growth and for UNC-Chapel Hill's Master Plan, legislators and University officials have said.

The legislation has already passed the House, but several changes were made to it in the Senate, at which point it was sent back to the House, where it is still sitting in a rules committee.

Evelyn Hawthorne, UNC-CH's associate vice chancellor for government relations, said the bill would enable UNC and other public builders to have increased flexibility in their construction plans.

Hawthorne said state law requires bidding at each level of public construction. But the proposed bill would allow public entities to accept one bid for each project.

Rep. George Holmes, R-Alexander, who cosponsored the legislation, said using one contractor would expedite construction and reduce costs.

The UNC system already received similar exceptions on some of the projects funded by the bond referendum.

Rep. Joanne Bowie, R-Guilford, added that under the legislation, any construction costs exceeding the initial bid would become the contractor's responsibility -- possibly saving the UNC system even more money.

Hawthorne said the legislation also would reduce the number of construction projects that require state approval, making the process more efficient.

All public building projects costing more than $500,000 now require state approval, but the proposed bill would raise that threshold to $2 million.

Hawthorne said many UNC-CH renovation projects fall under the $2 million threshold and that the bill would have a major impact on smaller schools in the system. Most construction projects at smaller campuses cost less than $2 million, she said, adding that increasing the threshold would ease the construction burden at several historically black schools.

Hawthorne said the bill would enable universities to accept bids from companies with lower bond ratings, enabling minorities and other groups traditionally at a disadvantage in the construction industry to bid on campus construction projects.

Hawthorne said those opposing the bill are primarily subcontractors concerned about losing business.

Holmes said he is not sure the bill will make it out of committee before the legislature adjourns. He said, "I am in favor of the bill, and hopefully we can get it done."

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