CULLOWHEE – With three separate ribbon-cutting ceremonies in one morning, this year’s Homecoming at Western Carolina University was an historic day for the Cullowhee campus even before the traditional awards and athletic events began.
At the first early morning ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, Oct. 23, Western’s Chancellor John Bardo noted that the state’s higher education bond referendum in 2000 made it possible to renovate Breese Gymnasium, a building that dates from the 1930s and served as the area’s first basketball arena.
Watching the ceremony, Ronald Rogers of Leicester, who played in Breese Gym in 1952-53 and was Western’s first three-time All-American athlete, said he was very glad to see the building preserved. The solid stone structure, which was designated a nuclear fallout shelter at one time, now serves as home to physical education and dance programs at Western.
“If these walls could talk, they would thank us for allowing Breese to return to its original purpose,” said David Claxton, head of the department of health and human performance.
Just a few minutes later at the second ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bardo described the university’s new Central Drive Residence Hall as the hallmark of what is happening at the university with its rising enrollment and demand for up-to-date accommodations that fit students’ changing lifestyles. The new 300-bed facility, built with $14.7 million in higher education bond funding, also houses a new faculty-in-residence program.
Students appreciate that aspect of Central Drive, said Sam Hyde of Statesville, a junior at Western and resident assistant in the new hall. “Just last week, I came downstairs for a spaghetti supper with one of my professors,” Hyde said. “We like it when faculty take time to be a part of our lives.”
Across campus, a large crowd of students at gathered at The Village with alumni and friends for the third ribbon-cutting of the day. The new 252-bed complex houses fraternities, sororities and other student organizations. “The design and planning of The Village involved an extraordinary amount of student input and feedback,” said Robert Caruso, vice chancellor for student affairs.
Katie Murphy of Alpharetta, Ga., a senior at Western and president of the Panhellenic Council, said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with the advisory committee that planned The Village. “We were involved in everything from the layout of the town houses to the selection of fabrics for our furniture,” Murphy said. Edward Johnson, a junior from Decatur, Ga., who is a program assistant in The Village, said people didn’t believe at first that grouping Greek organizations on campus would be successful. But the idea is working, Johnson said, and now residents feel a strong sense of community there.
The Village, an $11.4 million dollar complex, was funded through Western’s Research and Development Corporation and Affinity LLC and built by Capstone. “Privatized student housing will probably become commonplace,” said Bardo, “but for us and our partners it was a true adventure.” He predicted a similar residential living project is likely to be built nearby on Western’s campus in the future.