NC House proposes spending up to $180 million on renovations to NC State’s Poe Hall

NC State University could receive millions of dollars in state funding to renovate Poe Hall, the academic building that has been closed for months due to the presence of toxic chemicals.

Republican lawmakers in the state House unveiled their budget proposal Monday night, and included in their spending plan is a proposal to provide NC State with $5 million in one-time funds for “the design, engineering and implementation of building renovations at Poe Hall” in the upcoming 2024-25 fiscal year. But the project would be authorized to receive as much as $180 million in state funds, likely depending on the scope of the renovations.

University officials closed Poe Hall in November “out of an abundance of caution,” after preliminary tests showed the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs — toxic, synthetic chemicals that were banned from being produced in the U.S. in 1979. The chemicals, which were commonly used in construction materials before the production ban, are linked to cancer and considered to be “probable human carcinogens,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

NC State has not yet announced detailed plans for the future of Poe Hall, but officials anticipate the building to be closed at least through the end of the year.

In a March sit-down interview with The News & Observer, Chancellor Randy Woodson said legislators were aware of issues at Poe Hall and that the university was “incurring expenses now,” including for testing in the building.

“We have members of the General Assembly that are always trying to be helpful when we have infrastructure challenges,” Woodson said at the time.

N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson listens during a meeting of the UNC System Board of Governors on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C.
N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson listens during a meeting of the UNC System Board of Governors on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C.

Weighing renovation and new construction

The university earlier this month released a second round of testing results from the building, which showed the PCBs originated from insulation in the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Both rounds of testing showed that levels of the chemicals in the air, where they pose the greatest health risks, were found to be below exposure levels recommended by the EPA for school environments.

Still, federal regulations require any materials with concentrations of PCBs higher than 500 parts per million (ppm) to be removed from buildings once they are discovered. The June test results showed PCB materials in the building had concentrations ranging from 0.91 to 53,000 ppm.

Asked by The N&O in March whether the university would remove materials as federal regulations require, Woodson said the university “will do everything we’re asked to do by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Removing PCBs can be a costly, “very expensive” process, an expert on the chemicals previously told The N&O.

Woodson said the university would need to weigh the cost of renovating the building and removing the materials, compared to tearing down the building and starting from scratch, but said demolishing the building would be difficult since Poe Hall “is so critical to the university.” He said the university would “work with the state” on how to handle the building’s future.

“Weighing [the expense of renovations] versus the expense of all new construction is something that we have to do every day,” Woodson said. “But I can tell you, there’s not a big pile of cash over in the corner for either of those scenarios.”

Woodson said in a June 3 campus message that information about the university’s plans for remediation in the building, including a plan to “expedite” renovations, would be released “in the weeks ahead.”

NC State representatives did not immediately respond Tuesday morning to a request from The N&O for additional information about those plans.