Memorial Drive utilities project is first step toward new science building

Debris and logs left over from tree removal wait to be hauled away as part of the Memorial Drive road and utilities project.

The Connect NC bond-financed replacement for Western Carolina University’s antiquated Natural Sciences Building is still on the drawing boards, but the first early signs of the project already are apparent in the form of a closed section of Memorial Drive.

Work crews are cutting into a steep bank along the northern edge of Memorial Drive and removing existing pavement and sidewalk to install utilities to the new science building, including larger water lines that are necessary to meet current fire and safety standards, said Mike Byers, WCU vice chancellor for administration and finance.

“A coincidental benefit of this utilities project is that it will allow us to actually widen Memorial Drive slightly, making it more comfortable for pedestrians and vehicular traffic and enabling us to put more parking in that area of campus,” Byers said. The project will move Memorial Drive approximately 20 feet to the north and will adjust parking patterns in that area from angled to perpendicular, he said. About 30 additional parking spaces could be added to that vicinity by the time the new building is complete.

The utilities and road project is expected to be completed in time for the start of the fall semester, with the section of Memorial Drive from Norton Road to Killian Building Lane back open for vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

A second phase of the project, from Killian Building Lane to Buzzard’s Roost Road, is part of the science building construction and will stay closed during construction, and may remain offline for “through traffic” even after the new building is completed.

Because of the Memorial Drive utility and expansion project, the metered lots adjacent to Coulter Building (Lot 33) and Reid Gymnasium (Lot 30) have been made available over the summer sessions to faculty and staff who may have had their usual parking spaces displaced. “Folks are able to park in the metered lot at no additional cost this summer until Aug. 1 if they have valid parking passes,” Byers said.

The construction timeline for the $110 million replacement for the Natural Sciences Building calls for the design phase of the project continuing through 2017, with ground breaking to occur in 2018 and construction requiring three years.

“The new science building will connect to the end of Stillwell Building in the vicinity of the Niggli Theater and wrap around the existing Natural Sciences Building,” Byers said. “When the new building opens up in 2021, we will demolish the old science building and create a new courtyard in that area.”

The construction project will require the loss of Niggli Theater.