Board of Trustees approves three sites for possible future parking structures

WCU’s Board of Trustees has authorized design work to begin for a structured parking facility tentatively planned for the North Baseball Lot, shown in this aerial photo.

The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees designated three existing surface parking lots as sites for possible future parking structures in preparation for an anticipated increase in student enrollment in the years ahead.

The board also authorized university administrators to proceed with the design of the first of the three structured parking facilities, tentatively planned for the North Baseball Lot adjacent to Hennon Baseball Stadium. The two other sites approved by the trustees are the former marching band practice field near Reid Gymnasium and a tiered lot behind Hunter Library.

The action came as part of the board’s quarterly meeting Friday, March 1.

The new structured parking strategy represents a change from the university’s master plan, which had recommended a parking deck be built on or near the site of Cordelia Camp Building, said Mike Byers, WCU’s vice chancellor for administration and finance.

“As we began to evaluate Camp and other potential sites for structured parking, it quickly became evident that the Camp option would be more expensive than other locations on campus, where we could take advantage of the topography of the land and we wouldn’t be faced with costs associated with the necessity to relocate administrative offices,” Byers said.

All three newly designated sites for parking structures have current surface parking areas that are below street level, he said. “This means we can create multiple layers of additional parking without creating too massive of a structure,” Byers said.

At the North Baseball Lot, commuters and other vehicles could turn into campus off of N.C. Highway 107 onto Forest Hills Road, which should result in less traffic congestion in the central area of campus, he said. The location provides easy access to Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center and E.J. Whitmire Stadium for events such as commencement, football games and Mountain Heritage Day.

The former marching band practice field – recently converted into a surface parking lot after the band moved its practices to a lot behind the baseball stadium – has similar topographical advantages for a structured site and would provide additional parking closer to academic buildings.

The four-tiered surface lot behind Hunter Library represents the trickiest of the three locations approved for future structured parking, Byers said. Building at that site would possibly entail the acquisition of property and rerouting of Buzzard’s Roost Road so that it would connect directly with Old N.C. Highway 107 instead of dumping traffic onto Central Drive.

“In spite of the challenges, we do like this as a possible site because that section of campus is in need of some redevelopment and because it would help alleviate pedestrian-vehicle conflict that exists along Buzzard’s Roost,” he said.

Byers gave a cost-benefit comparison of the three sites and the Camp Building location:

* Camp – $25 million to create 1,100 parking spaces (current capacity is 250).

* North Baseball – $13.8 million to create 1,000 spaces (currently 400).

* Former band practice field – $12 million to create 670 spaces (currently 185).

* Four-tiered lot behind Hunter – $13.4 million to create 685 spaces (currently 295).

Additional parking areas are needed not just in anticipation of enrollment growth but also to help meet current demand. A former parking lot between Judaculla Hall and Brown Hall is now the site for construction of a new 600-bed residence hall serving the upper campus. Crews also are working to create a new surface parking lot across Central Drive from Judaculla Hall.

In other action, the trustees agreed to request the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to designate six additional WCU tracts of land as “Millennial Campus” properties, which would enable the university to seek public-private partnerships for potential communications infrastructure, student housing and mixed use facilities. Those areas include properties at or near Noble Hall, Norton Road, Whitmire Stadium, Cullowhee Mountain, Brown Mountain and Old Cullowhee Road.