Lower campus residence hall, parking deck projects move forward

Graham Infirmary was built on the WCU campus in 1939 as part of a six-building construction project funded by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration.

Two projects deemed by Western Carolina University officials as necessary to meet the demands of a rapidly increasing student enrollment moved forward as the WCU Board of Trustees selected firms to design a new lower campus residence hall and the university’s first parking deck.

The board also approved plans to demolish two campus structures – the vacant Graham Building, formerly home to the university’s infirmary, and the Battle House, currently used for maintenance staff and storage by the Department of Residential Living and located on the footprint of a new upper campus residence hall that is now on the drawing board.

The actions came Friday, Sept. 15, as part of the board’s first quarterly meeting of the 2017-18 academic year.

The trustees selected the Hanbury firm of Blacksburg, Virginia, to design a new residence hall to be built on a site yet to be determined on the lower section of campus. The company worked previously with WCU on development of its campus master plan.

Phase 1 of the lower campus residence hall project is scheduled to start in spring of 2019 and be completed in time for the 2020 fall semester. The approximately 120,000-square-foot building will provide on-campus housing for about 400 students. The estimated price tag is $26 million.

The board selected the Walter Robbs firm of Winston-Salem to design the university’s first parking garage, also to be built on a site yet to be determined. Preliminary examination of potential locations indicate two possible spots – one between the H.F. Robinson Administration Building and the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center and the other adjacent to Camp Building and N.C. Highway 107, said Kenny Messer, trustee and chair of the board’s finance and audit committee.

The General Assembly earlier this year approved a bill outlining new self-liquidating capital projects at University of North Carolina institutions, including authorization for WCU to proceed on an approximately $23.6 million parking garage.

The project is expected to begin in May of next year, with completion by August of 2019.

By endorsing demolition of the Graham Building and Battle House, the board is initiating the process to proceed with the disposal of real property as required by the State Property Office, a process that culminates with approval by the Council of State.

Graham Building, a 10,775-square-foot, two-story building where WCU students once went to seek health care, has been out of service following the opening of University Health Services in Bird Building in 2003. The Battle House, a 2,149-square-foot private home built in 1956, has seen little to no repairs since its construction and must come down to make room for a new upper campus residence hall to be built between Brown Hall and Judaculla Hall (formerly Central Drive Hall).

Speaking of that upper campus residence facility, the trustees also authorized the issuance of up to $48 million in special obligation bonds for the residence hall of approximately 600 beds. The board endorsed a design concept for the building in June. The project is expected to begin in spring 2018 and be completed by fall 2019.

University officials say additional campus housing is needed to meet the demands of a growing student population. Enrollment at WCU crossed the 11,000-student mark this fall for the first time in the institution’s history.