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CFCC, the Bank of America building, and Jimmy Hopkin's unceremonious removal from the Board of Trustees

On this episode, two interwoven stories revolving around the potential purchase of the former Bank of America building in downtown Wilmington by New Hanover County on behalf of Cape Fear Community College — and the abrupt removal of trustee Jimmy Hopkins from his longtime post on the CFCC Board.

Earlier in September, at the CFCC Board of Trustees meeting, Jonathan Barfield – a trustee and county commissioner – let it slip that the county was providing ‘a new facility’ for CFCC. A few people in the room seemed caught off guard and, now, we know why: CFCC had been eying the building for some time but had taken great pains to keep it quiet.

This week, the proposed purchase showed up on the New Hanover County commissioner’s agenda. According to the proposal, CFCC Board Chair Bill Cherry wrote to the county on September 12 to ask the county to buy the building to expand the college’s nursing program.

The purchase price is roughly $12 million and, down the road, the building will take at least $15 million to renovate and upfit to serve as classroom and lab space.

Related: NHC considering $12 million purchase of former Bank of America building for CFCC nursing program expansion

Here’s how the financial Brian Eckel, who sits on both the Novant NHRMC board and Novant’s leadership board, put the BoA building under contract in early August. So the county isn’t directly buying the property; instead, with commissioners’ approval, Eckel will transfer the contract to the county. Hank Miller, Wrightsville Beach Mayor Pro-Tem and chair of the UNCW Board of Trustees, represented the buyer-side of the deal.

The proposal addresses a clear problem — the national nurse shortage — and the location is conveniently adjacent to CFCC’s downtown campus. But there are a lot of other questions, not least of which being: why is this the first time this is being publicly discussed? We’ve heard there have been a lot of conversations about what it would actually take to not only expand CFCC’s nursing program but to create a nursing education pipeline — but, so far, those conversations have been behind the scenes.

Another question is, why was CFCC trustee Jimmy Hopkins, who had chaired the college’s facility committee, removed from his post?

Earlier this week, New Hanover County Board Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman formally removed Hopkins, who was later notified by county staff.

Related: Weeks after disagreement with CFCC President, trustee removed from board

Hopkins said he felt his dismissal was dubious, and tied to a disagreement he had with CFCC President Jim Morton over a ‘facilities’ issue that he’d been kept in the dark about. Hopkins would not confirm or deny that the facility in question was the BoA building — but, certainly, the timeline suggests it could have been, and there don’t appear to have been any other major facilities purchases Hopkins’ could be been alluding to.

That aside, it's also unclear if the county was within its rights to dismiss Hopkins. The county asserts it was, but Frayda Bluestein’s writing for the UNC School of Governmentsuggests it might not have been.

There’s much more to learn about both Hopkins' dismissal and the purchase of the BoA building — which the county will vote on, following a public hearing, on Monday.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.