State, regional and local officials helped the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics break ground on its new Morganton campus Friday.

And the school received a big boost from Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge in closing the funding gap to build the school.

Mike Bridges, chair of the board of directors for CHS Blue Ridge, and Kathy Bailey, CEO of CHS Blue Ridge, made the presentation of the $5 million donation to NCSSM Chancellor Todd Roberts and the school’s leadership team.

Bridges told the crowd gathered that the thing that stood out for him at the groundbreaking is how excited everyone is about the school and how eager they are to get the project underway.

“As a parent and in-law of two NCSSM grads, I witnessed the positive impact of the school on the youth of the state and the significant contributions of its graduates , Bridges said .

Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge recognizes that the school will enhance the economic development of the area, which is vital to improving the health and wellbeing of Burke County residents, Bridges said.

He said the school’s programs will be an asset to the other educational programs already going on in the county. Bridges said the investment will prepare future students to be innovators as they choose their careers, and maybe lead some back to Burke County.

Bridges said the health care system sees the donation as support to the future prosperity and success of the region.

When Bridges announced how much the health care system was donating, it drew some gasps and a standing ovation from the crowd.

As he stood at the podium after the presentation, Roberts said, “What do you do with something like this,” as he tried to find a pocket on his suit to put the check in. “That’s not something that happens every day,” he said.

The $5 million donation is the largest one in the school’s 40-year history, according to NCSSM.

Roberts said the new campus will give even more students the opportunity to discover their interests and talents and prepare to lead, serve and tackle the challenges faced by the state, nation and world.

He said they have much more critical work to do to get the Morganton campus built.

Roberts said there will be 100 people working on the campus when it is completed and it will open to the first class in August 2021.

The health care system’s donation conveys naming rights for a state-of-the-art comprehensive student wellness and activities center at NCSSM-Morganton, according to the school.

CHS Blue Ridge’s $5 million gift represents a significant step toward the $10 million goal in private donations to support construction of the new Morganton campus, according to a release from the school. The gift puts the total raised for the new campus at more than $7 million since 2018, according to the school.

The majority of the funding for the new residential campus was $58 million from the $2 billion Connect NC bond package that voters approved in 2016. In 2018, the North Carolina legislature appropriated an additional $15 million for the school campus construction.

The projected cost to build the school in Morganton is $78 million.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, UNC Interim President Dr. Bill Roper, state and local officials and alumni from 30 of the 38 NCSSM graduates attended the groundbreaking Friday.

For more information about the development of NCSSM-Morganton, including information about the capital campaign, visit www.ncssm.edu/morgantoncampus.

Sharon McBrayer is a staff writer and can be reached at smcbrayer@morganton.com or at 828-432-8946.

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