Trustees agree to repair chancellor’s residence, plan for new facility

The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees agreed Wednesday, Dec. 1, to take steps both immediate and long-term to address structural and safety deficiencies in the university-owned chancellor’s residence.

The board unanimously approved a resolution expressing its commitment to bring an existing residence built in 1953 up to modern standards and to begin the process of planning a multipurpose facility for university-hosted public functions that also will serve as a home for the chancellor.

University of North Carolina system policy requires chancellors to live in a university-owned residence as a condition of employment and as part of the compensation package.

The resolution resulted from a recent inspection of the current home that found major problems that include an outdated electrical system; insufficient plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning; the presence of asbestos; and handicap accessibility issues.

The action comes as WCU is seeking a new chancellor to succeed John W. Bardo, who is stepping down from the position on July 1. A nationwide search for the university’s next chief executive officer is under way.

“This is a serious issue for the university in a time of recruitment for our next chancellor,” said Joan MacNeill, chair of the trustees’ administration, governance and trusteeship committee. “It is an issue we must address before the next chancellor is on the job. We cannot saddle that person with this problem.”

The role of the chancellor has evolved to require a greater focus on external activities and interaction with the community, alumni, donors, potential donors, partners and potential partners in public-private ventures, elected officials and other constituencies, MacNeill said. The chancellor also is expected to host meetings, receptions, events and performances, and the current residence is ill-equipped for those functions, she said.

Steve Warren, chair of the board, said the trustees must take ownership of the projects. “We are stewards of place, and we do have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the chancellor’s residence,” Warren said. “We recognize that the job of chancellor has changed dramatically in the 21st century, and we need to address that. At the same time, we have to have a place that is livable and safe.”

Warren also commended the current occupant of the chancellor’s house for focusing on matters other than home improvements. “It really speaks to what John Bardo has cared about more than anything, and that is doing the job of chancellor,” he said.

The resolution commits the board to begin immediate repairs and alterations to the existing residence to address its deficiencies and allow it to be used for public functions. The cost of the project will not be known until after a thorough inspection can be completed and until bids for the work are accepted. The university will use its own facilities management staff as much as possible for the work.

The action also commits the trustees to conduct feasibility studies, to plan and to build a new multipurpose facility that will serve as a public gathering space and chancellor’s residence, and to undertake a capital fundraising campaign and seek donations of materials and services for the project.

The multipurpose facility concept adopted by the WCU board is similar to what several other UNC institutions have done regarding chancellor housing in recent years.

The University of North Carolina-Asheville opened the 6,333-square-foot Janice W. Brumit Pisgah House in February 2010, featuring about 4,300 square feet for public functions on the ground floor and about 2,000 square feet of upstairs living quarters.

Through its “This Red House project,” N.C. State University is planning to open a facility in the fall of 2011 that includes a 5,400-square-foot public portion and separate 3,100 square feet of residential space.

Appalachian State University in 2002 opened its 9,453-square-foot building, with about 6,400 square feet of multiuse space and 3,000 square feet for the chancellor and family.