By Beth Lawrence
Western Carolina University has a spate of construction projects set for the next few years.
The projects are designed to modernize the campus, both aesthetically and functionally. Improvements will be done in phases over the next few years, said Joe Walker, associate vice chancellor of facilities management.
A number of construction endeavors call for erecting or renovating buildings, parking expansions, telecom and infrastructure upgrades and an entrance sign at the entrance on N.C. 107.
The 185,000 square-foot Tom Apodaca Science/STEM Building is under construction with a projected completion date of August 2021. The $110 million in funds for the building comes from the NC Connect bond program.
“It is our most critical academic building at this time,” Walker said.
The existing 1970s era natural science building will be demolished when the Apodaca building is complete.
“Age, deficiencies, it’s got a lot of problems that are not conducive to the sciences from when it was constructed, also the amount of space is a problem,” Walker said.
A new quad space will be created on the footprint of the former building.
One project designed to improve functionality is a new steam plant. The existing structure was built in the 1920s; it is responsible for providing heat and hot water to approximately 85 percent of the campus. It is one of the campus’ oldest buildings. The plan is for new boilers and new controls in a new building and keeping part of the original building. The project is nearly ready to go out to bid but could be delayed because funding comes from the state budget. Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican controlled legislature are embroiled in a standoff over the budget.
“It’s very critical infrastructure,” Walker said. “There’s been times in the past in really cold winters where we’ve lost a boiler and were struggling to get heat back up. We have contingency plans in place, but it’s going to be difficult if we lose that plant.”
Also critical to running the school smoothly is reworking the school’s telecommunications infrastructure with new cables and fiber optic lines. New lines are being run with some being rerouted to several hubs across campus.
The Scott and Walker residence halls near the front of campus will be demolished this summer to make way for three new buildings. The current buildings were built in the 1960s and ’70s, do not have air conditioning and have other deficiencies. The new aesthetic will better match the overall red brick look of other buildings on the campus, and facilities will be modern. The pedestrian walkway will be extended through the area between the new residence halls.
The Ramsey Center will get a facelift. The current black glass walls of the building affectionately dubbed “Darth Vader’s Summer Home” leak during strong rainstorms.
“We are going back to something that looks more in line with the campus architecture; it’ll be closer to a brick color with a metalized panel system,” Walker said.
Across from the Ramsey Center, in the North Baseball parking lot, a new three level parking structure will be built. The parking deck will have nearly 1,000 spaces. Construction is expected to begin after graduation in May.
Expansions have been made to the Central Drive parking lot.
The parking and residence halls are financed by loans covered by parking fees and room rates.
Office space in Reid Gym and the Robinson administration building will be renovated.
The Cordelia Camp building’s roof is being replaced as well.
Finally, WCU’s entrance from N.C. 107 will get a new look. A terraced rock wall is under construction. The wall will have bronze-20-inch-tall letters spelling out Western Carolina University.
“Right now as you come through the gap, there’s a green DOT sign that says Western Carolina University; that’s all the identifier we had for years,” Walker said. “We felt like we needed something better that says, ‘You are here.’”