The final piece of the puzzle in the replacement of Western Carolina University’s two largest residence halls is now in place following approval of the issuance of $80 million in special obligation bonds to fund the cost of construction of their replacements.
The WCU Board of Trustees approved the bond issue as part of its quarterly meeting Friday, Sept. 4.
Demolition of the nine-story Scott and Walker halls began shortly after the end of the 2020 spring semester with the removal of interior features such as doors and built-in furniture. The buildings will be taken down by mechanical methods – meaning no dramatic implosion or wrecking ball – later in September.
Scott Hall is a 142,655-square-foot building originally erected in 1969, while Walker Hall is a 70,658-square-foot structure that opened in 1972. Together, the two high-rise residence halls, which do not have air conditioning and feature design elements unpopular with today’s students, provide housing for about 1,150 students.
The board in March 2019 approved a design plan for the replacement structures consisting of three separate facilities of about 300 beds each, rising no more than five stories high, with the potential for a fourth building if warranted based on enrollment growth. The first of the new facilities is expected to be open by the fall 2023 semester.
In addition to the lower campus residence hall replacement, the trustees heard updates about several other campus construction and renovation projects from Joe Walker, associate vice chancellor for facilities management.
Largest among them is the Apodaca Science Building, which will replace the existing 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building. The $110 million construction project was made possible through funding from the 2016 statewide $2 billion Connect NC bond referendum.
The project is on target to be completed by August 2021, with 95 percent of the building’s exterior “skin” in place, Walker said. Initial phases of occupancy of the new building could take place as early as next May with the soft opening of portions of the facility.
After the building is fully up and running, demolition of the Natural Sciences Building will get underway, followed by the creation of a courtyard between the new Apodaca Building and Hunter Library. That work is expected to continue into 2022, Walker said.
Across campus, the university’s first parking structure is rising from the site between the Ramsey Regional Activity Center and Hennon Baseball Stadium. Workers have begun pouring concrete slabs for the ground floor of the three-level facility.
The 1,000-space parking structure, scheduled for completion in April 2021, will be surrounded by greenspace for fan tailgating prior to athletics events. Located next to N.C. Highway 107, the facility will become the primary parking area for commuting students, with shuttle service to the center of campus.
A project to replace the artificial turf on Bob Waters Field in E.J. Whitmire Stadium is now complete, featuring a woven turf that is more durable and safer for student-athletes, Walker said. The new turf, funded through a campaign spearheaded by the Catamount Club, has a life expectancy of 12 years, although the fact that there are no home football games this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic may provide an additional year of service, he said, prompting board chair Bryant Kinney to joke, “We redshirted our turf!”
Bids are scheduled to be opened in October to select a contractor for the $33 million replacement of WCU’s decades-old steam plant. The university identified a new energy production facility as its No. 1 capital improvements project in 2012. The steam plant, which includes elements that are nearly 100 years old, supplies heat and hot water to most of campus.
As part of the 2017 budget bill, legislators appropriated $750,000 to begin planning and design of a steam plant replacement, with an initial installment of $16.5 million included in the state budget approved in 2018. The second installment of $16.5 million became reality through a legislative “mini-budget” signed into law in June of this year.
A face-lift for the Ramsey Center is underway as workers are installing metal panels over much of the large expanses of dark glass that surround the outside of the building, which were prone to leaks during heavy rainfall.
A redesigned main campus entrance featuring a stacked rock wall emblazoned with the name “Western Carolina University” in bronze lettering is nearly completed, with finishing touches on landscaping nearing completion.
In other action, the board approved a resolution endorsing a relationship with the Southwestern Region Small Business Incubator Hub, a U.S. Department of Agriculture effort funded in part by a $134,00 grant through the Rural Business-Cooperative Service to support the development of small and emerging private business enterprises in rural Western North Carolina.