N.C. Gov. Mike Easley signed a $20.7 billion budget bill Tuesday, July 31, that includes $46.2 million in funding for a new health and gerontological sciences building at Western Carolina University.
The 145,000 square-foot facility that will house WCU’s educational and outreach programs in the College of Health and Human Sciences will be the first construction project on the university’s Millennial Initiative property, 344 acres of land located across N.C. Highway 107 from Western’s main campus.
WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo said the university will move forward as quickly as possible on construction of the building.
“With the funding approved by the legislature, Western can take major steps toward addressing an issue of vital importance not only to the mountain region we serve, but to the entire state. The health and gerontological sciences building will allow us to produce more graduates in health care professions who can meet the needs of the growing population of aging adults,” Bardo said.
“In addition, this will be the first building on our Millennial Initiative property, which will enable us to begin serious development on that project. I particularly want to thank our local legislators Sen. John Snow, Rep. Phil Haire, Sen. Joe Sam Queen and Sen. Martin Nesbitt for their strong support of this development,” he said.
The new building will house classrooms, offices and laboratory space to allow much-needed expansion of Western’s accredited degree programs to meet an increasing demand for licensed health care professionals in a wide range of nursing and health sciences disciplines, said Linda Seestedt-Stanford, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences.
“This building will provide exceptional educational and research opportunities that will enrich and advance the quality of education at Western and will serve as a testament to our dedication to making a difference in the health of the people of North Carolina,” said Seestedt-Stanford. “It will allow both the physical assimilation of our health programs, pulling together faculty and students currently housed in four different buildings, as well as interdisciplinary cross-fertilization, an essential element necessary in the education of health sciences students. I view this building as an unprecedented opportunity for the programs in the College of Health and Human Sciences to create and implement a new vision, one that will serve our students, faculty and community for decades to come.”
Representatives of Western North Carolina hospitals and health care agencies have long supported the development of additional educational and training facilities at Western, which produces many of the region’s health care professionals.
“A modern school for the health sciences will provide a steady stream of highly qualified employees in the nursing and allied health professions at hospitals and other care facilities across the mountains,” said Mark Leonard, president and chief executive officer of WestCare Health System. “As the demographics of our region change, including a rapid increase in the aging population, we need health care professionals who are trained to meet those evolving needs.”
The four-story building will become home to WCU’s School of Nursing and to programs in social work, physical therapy, athletic training, clinical laboratory sciences, environmental health, health information administration, nutrition and dietetics, emergency medical care, recreational therapy, and communication sciences and disorders.
The construction schedule calls for early site work to begin in March, with construction bids accepted in June. Construction could begin by next September, with a target completion date of June 2010.
The building is expected to become the cornerstone for a mixed-used “neighborhood of interest” focusing on retirement, aging and health, where students and faculty would work with partners from private business and industry. University officials say the neighborhood would provide a good location for private health care provider facilities, specialty housing related to older populations, and companies that supply products or services related to health and aging.
Western received $2.4 million in advance planning and design funding for the building from the legislature in 2005.