CULLOWHEE – The blending of tradition and modernization — of old-fashioned woodwork and high-tech teaching — was celebrated at Western Carolina University on Friday, Nov. 21, as the university held ribbon-cutting ceremonies to showcase its newly renovated Bird and McKee buildings.
Located on opposite sides of Central Drive on Western’s campus, both structures were refurbished with funds provided through higher education bonds approved by North Carolina voters in November 2000. The Bird and McKee projects are the first projects completed at Western with money provided by those bonds.
“All this was made possible because the people of North Carolina chose in 2000 to support the largest bond issue for higher education in the history of the United States,” Western Chancellor John W. Bardo told the crowd that gathered for the ribbon-cutting at Bird Building.
Voters approved $3.1 billion in higher education bonds in a statewide referendum, with $98.4 million earmarked for renovations and construction at Western.
Bardo noted that the bonds were approved in every precinct in Jackson County, and in every county in the state. “That tells you a lot about the faith the people of this state have in their university,” he said.
“What we’re doing here today is keeping the faith with the people — making sure their sons and daughters are healthy and have an excellent opportunity to grow and prosper,” Bardo said.
Redesigned for use as a state-of-the-art Student Health Center, and Counseling and Psychological Services office, Bird Building was built in 1960 and named after W. Ernest Bird, university president from 1956 to 1957. Through the $1.8 million project, the structure has been rewired with current electrical and information technology systems, air conditioning installed, spaces reconfigured and the second floor renovated to improve access.
Western student Matt Kuhn, a junior from Pinehurst and assistant chief of the university Emergency Medical Services, told the crowd that he has visited many university health facilities, and the refurbished Bird Building provides for Western students “the most state-of-the-art and high-tech facility I have ever seen.”
Members of the McKee family of Cashiers were on hand as a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place at the entrance of Western’s historic McKee Building. Constructed as a laboratory school in 1939, the building is named in honor of Gertrude Dills McKee, first woman to be elected to the N.C. Senate and a two-term member of the university’s board of trustees. Attendees included Gertrude Dills McKee’s grandson Will McKee, and Becky McKee, Ann McKee Austin and A. William McKee.
The $5.2 million McKee Building project included the configuring of classrooms for modern instruction, installation of new wiring, improvements in access and elimination of water intrusion on the ground floor.
Bardo told those at the McKee Building ceremony that the structure has housed the university’s programs in the humanities and social sciences for many years, “the same programs that preserve the traditions of this region.” Even with the renovations, McKee Building still contains original woodwork and old-fashioned chalkboards, along with some of the newest teaching technology available, he said.
“What you see in this building is the commitment of this university to preserve what is best about this region, while at the same time we work with the people of this region to create a bright and prosperous future,” Bardo said.
McKee Building now provides instructional space for the departments of history, modern foreign languages, anthropology and sociology, and social work, including room for new programs in Cherokee studies and forensic anthropology. The facility also now houses Western’s Teaching Fellows Program, and Speech and Hearing Center.
Western student Brandon Robinson, a junior history major from Mocksville, said students were concerned when the project began that McKee Building’s historic qualities could not be successfully combined with 21st-century technology.
“If anyone had any doubt that that could be done, McKee will prove them wrong,” Robinson said.
Also speaking during the ribbon-cutting ceremonies were Western trustee and Asheville Mayor Charles Worley, legislators Phil Haire, Steve Metcalf and Roger West, and Bill Haggard, associate vice chancellor for student affairs at Western.