Dempsey Center Ready to Open

BY BRIAN KLIMEK: Staff Writer

Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College since 1989, stood in the building that bears his name Tuesday morning.

He was looking at a bronze plaque that commemorates the opening of the Dempsey Student Center, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

“When the board (of trustees) decided a couple of years ago to do this, there was an immediate rush of appreciation,” Dempsey said. “Obviously there’s some ego involved, too. You’d be a fool to say your ego isn’t stroked by something like this, so when the board decided to do it, I was beside myself.”

Dempsey said he had gotten used to the idea of having a building named after him, but that changed earlier this week.

“On Sunday night, I came over to the campus and they’d recently put the name up on the front of the building,” he said. “I went, ‘Wow! There it is. The Dempsey Student Center.’ You do a double take and immediately think of how proud your parents would be.”

Dempsey said he is fortunate to have such an honor.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be in a place long enough and where the people appreciate what you’ve done enough to confer this incredible honor on you,” he said. “This sort of thing just isn’t done very often, so I realize what an enormous honor it is and I realize that it’s a statement of the faith that the Board of Trustees has placed in me. I’m humbled and gratified by it. I don’t know if I’ll ever quite get used to it. I hope I don’t. I would feel ashamed if I got used to it.”

The two-story, 47,500-square-foot building will house a variety of facilities including the Logan Bookstore, the Heins Gymnas-ium, the Russell Fitness Center, the Ewing Student Leadership Center, the Peterson Dining Commons and the Clement Dining Room.

Though the building is called a student center and will serve that role, Dempsey said he would like to think of it as a “campus center.”

“It’s going to be a building that brings together students, staff and faculty from different parts of the campus to interact with each other in ways that they really never have before,” Dempsey said. “We’ve never had a faculty dining room. We’ve never had a staff dining room. We’ve never had all the campus organizations in one place.

“We’ve never had the kind of food service that I think is going to make us the envy of everybody in town with our new cafeteria. We’ve also got a fabulous intramural facility — both indoors and outdoors — and a fitness center.”

The timing of the Dempsey Center’s opening turned out be a bit bittersweet for the college, which found out Monday night that the Moore County Board of Commissioners’ budget for 2005-2006 leaves the college with a $300,000 shortfall.

“It’s fascinating,” Dempsey said. “In fact, people here on campus are perplexed by this. You know, how can you be poor as a church mouse with your right hand and be opening a beautiful new building with your left hand?

“The answer, of course, is that the construction of this facility has nothing really to do with the county appropriation. It has everything to do with the bond issue.”

The building, which cost $7.9 million to construct, is funded by a 2000 state bond referendum and a 1997 county bond issue.

“The construction of this beautiful building was made possible by the voters of Moore County,” Dempsey said. “The actual operation of it, in fact, is the responsibility of the county commissioners.”

Mark Wright of Wright Architecture in High Point designed the building, while J.H. Allen Inc. of Asheboro was the general contractor. ABL & Associates Plumbing of Raleigh, Smith’s Refrigeration of Lumberton and H&L Electrical of Laurinburg were among the key subcontractors.

Dempsey said the work of everyone involved in constructing the building should be commended.

“Mark Wright gave us an unbelievable building for the amount of money that was spent on it,” Dempsey said. “Maybe they’re just being kind, but I’ve had people say they’ve been all over the state and haven’t seen a building this nice.

“We’re very excited about the aesthetics of the building. We’re very excited about the fact that it’s finished on time and on budget. We’re also delighted about the transformational impact it will have on the students and faculty of the college.”

Lynne Peterson
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