WCU science building, medical offices, radio tower move forward after board action

WWCU Power 90.5 has operated as an FM radio station since 1977, and began life as an AM station in 1948.

WWCU Power 90.5 has operated as an FM radio station since 1977, and began life as an AM station in 1948.

A modern home for Western Carolina University’s natural science programs, a medical office building to be located near the Health and Human Science Building and a more powerful signal for the university’s FM radio station took additional steps toward becoming reality Friday, Sept. 2.

The WCU Board of Trustees selected a firm to lead the construction of a new natural sciences building approved by voters as part of a $2 billion statewide referendum in March; ratified the sublease of approximately 2 acres on the university’s West Campus for the medical offices project; and authorized the lease of roughly 9 acres of land on Brown Mountain for the potential development of a new FM radio tower.

The action came as part of the board’s first quarterly meeting of the 2016-17 academic year.

The trustees selected Skanska USA as construction manager at risk for the $110 million science building project. The firm, headquartered in New York with offices in Durham, will oversee construction of the facility, which will replace WCU’s 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building.

WCU trustee Wardell Townsend speaks with a member of the university’s staff at Ramsey Regional Activity Center during Employee Appreciation Day, held on campus Wednesday, Aug. 31. WCU faculty and staff were treated to a free lunch at the Ramsey Center as part of the day’s activities. Townsend joined other members of the Board of Trustees, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar in mingling with faculty and staff to thank them for their service to the university.

Design is expected to take place throughout 2017, with construction to begin on or near the site of the current Natural Sciences Building. The project may take place in phases, with a portion of the new facility to be constructed before the existing building is demolished and replaced. University leaders hope to see the new building completed by 2020.

The university is being assisted throughout the design process by Jeanne Narum, a nationally recognized expert in science facilities and teaching who is founding director of Project Kaleidoscope, a National Science Foundation effort to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) learning environments. Narum visited campus in late March to meet with the campus community and discuss an initial vision for the new structure.

Across N.C. Highway 107, the medical office building project will result in the first privately developed structure built as part of the Millennial Initiative, WCU’s comprehensive regional economic development strategy designed to enable the university to engage in public-private partnerships that enhance educational opportunities for students and increase the ability of faculty to conduct research, while also promoting regional development. As part of the initiative, the university acquired 344 acres of property adjacent to the main campus in 2005; that tract often is called the West Campus.

The sublease approved by the board enables the Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund of Western Carolina University, which holds the lease on the West Campus property, to sublease the 2-acre tract to Summit Healthcare Group of Winston-Salem, WCU’s partner in the medical office building project.

Construction could begin as early as spring 2017. The building is expected to include 30,000 square feet of space for health care professionals and health-related businesses.

For the third project, the radio tower, the board agreed to lease 9 acres of university property on the Cedar Cliff Development/Brown Mountain tract to the Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund to facilitate the potential construction of a transmitting tower. The Federal Communications Commission last year granted a construction permit to WCU to create a new noncommercial radio station on the 95.3 FM frequency.

The university has three years from the time of the granting of the permit to build the facility and begin broadcasting. University officials say the new signal could be more than five times as powerful as the present university station at 90.5 FM.

As part of the board’s committee meetings, discussions of interests and other activities Thursday, Sept. 1, trustees mingled with faculty and staff during WCU’s annual Employee Appreciation Day luncheon in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center.