CULLOWHEE — The upcoming expansion of Western Carolina University’s A.K. Hinds University Center will represent a major move toward making that facility a true “community center” in the heart of campus, WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo said at a Wednesday (April 25) groundbreaking ceremony.
The estimated $5.3 million project will add another 34,000 square feet of space to the building that serves as the hub of student social life at WCU. Built in 1968, the University Center is named in honor of the late Anthony Keith Hinds, former dean and professor of mathematics at Western.
Bardo was joined in the ceremonial moving of dirt by Adelaide Daniels Key, chair of WCU’s board of trustees, and student Litta Adams of North Wilkesboro, chair of the University Center advisory committee.
In his comments to a crowd that gathered for the ceremony, Bardo spoke about the current budget crisis facing the state. Some may wonder why the university would break ground for a construction project, while at the same time, some WCU programs and positions are facing possible elimination, he said.
The current budget crisis is related to the state’s tax revenues — money that legislators appropriate to finance the day-to-day operations of state government, Bardo said. The University Center expansion, however, is financed through a self-liquidating bond issue that will be paid back with student fees, he said.
Bardo said the bond issue can be compared to a mortgage being used to pay for a home. The money generated from a mortgage has to be used for its intended purpose — to purchase a home, he said. “You can think of it as two bank accounts where you really don’t have the right to move money from one account to the other. Just because you have a shortage in one account doesn’t mean you can take it out of the other account,” he said.
Bardo said the budget crisis “doesn’t change the fact that we have to plan for the long run, and we have to build this university and keep it moving forward.”
The University Center expansion project is the second in an anticipated three-phase effort designed to enhance the quality of student life at Western. The first phase of that effort was a $4 million renovation project, completed in the summer of 1997, that resulted in the modernization of the 53,000-square-foot facility.
The building expansion will feature a two-story atrium lobby and lounge area, 160-seat multipurpose meeting room, 170-seat auditorium for movies and lectures, student post office with 4,000 mail boxes, 3,500 square feet of retail space, and expanded food court. Also in the expansion will be a Student Activities Center, including a multicultural center and women’s center, and offices for student clubs and organizations with work space and conference rooms.
Key called the groundbreaking “a significant occasion in the life of our university. The trustees of your university clearly recognize the importance of this building to the university, but more importantly, we support the efforts being made to improve the quality of life for our students,” she said.
Adams said the expansion “will be of tremendous benefit to students because it will provide a more central place for students to gather, socialize and learn.”
Despite the inconveniences caused by construction, “the outcome will be most beneficial in helping to develop a sense of community for our campus,” Adams said.