It’s not an uncommon sight to encounter high school-age students and their parents scratching their heads while squinting at the directory posted on the second floor of the H.F. Robinson Administration Building or stopping staff members who work in the building to ask one simple question: “Can you tell me where I can find the admissions office?”
The answer to that question – which currently is “on the other side of Cullowhee Creek at the end of the Cordelia Camp Building” – will be different by the summer of 2019, if things go according to plan. That’s when the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is scheduled to be back in business in the H.F. Robinson Building after an 11-year absence.
Returning the admissions staff to the building, which just so happens to be the first structure that visitors see as they pull into the main entrance to campus, has been part of a long-range set of recommendations unveiled in early 2014 regarding the use of space in the building often called “HFR.”
But that phase of the building reorganization and relocation plan was moved closer to the front of the line after office space on the second floor sustained significant damage when water lines froze over the winter break, bursting pipes and flooding offices occupied by the Office of Human Resources and Payroll, said Matt Ketchum, WCU’s director of facilities planning, design and construction.
“That unexpected damage to the second floor caused us to shuffle some things around from our original schedule, and we’ve changed the phasing for the stages of work in HFR,” Ketchum said. “As a result, we are expediting the admissions folks coming over to the building.”
Facilities Management workers have removed art work hanging on the walls of the main second floor lobby of the building and are replacing wooden flooring damaged by the water from the ruptured pipes. Workers also have demolished the central stairwell leading from the second floor to the third, resulting in the addition of approximately 400 square feet of space per floor, Ketchum said. That work also has eliminated that central access point to the first floor from the second-floor lobby, although two remaining stairwells and elevators remain.
With the central stairwell now gone, an internal crew from Facilities Management has begun work to finish up the renovations on the third floor of the building. That phase of the project is expected to be completed by September, and staff from the Office of Human Resources and Payroll will relocate from temporary quarters on the ground floor of HFR to permanent office space on the third floor.
In the meantime, Ketchum and crew are working with Mike Langford, director of admissions, and Phil Cauley, WCU assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, to begin planning for what the first-floor space should look like to accommodate the needs of a 21st-century admissions operation. Those discussions will include the office’s current necessities as well as planning for expansion as needed over the next 10 years as the university continues on an anticipated growth trajectory of increasing enrollment by an expected 300 students per year.
“For example, how can the Office of Undergraduate Admissions best utilize the existing auditorium space?” Ketchum said, referring to what was once known as Founders Auditorium. “Will we try to create a new separate entrance for visitors to Admissions? What about parking? We’ll need to get answers to all of those questions.”
Before work can begin on the ground floor, university officials must find a new home for Mountain Heritage Center artifacts that are currently being stored there. Although exhibit and office space relocated out of the Robinson Building in 2015 as one of the first steps in the HFR changes, the museum of Southern Appalachian history and culture maintains storage space in the building.
The WCU Board of Trustees recently authorized university staff to search for and lease secured, climate-controlled storage space for the center’s museum pieces.
The Office of Admissions moved from space on the second floor of the Robinson Building to the Camp Building in early 2008 because of a lack of office space, storage and a venue for presentations to groups of prospective students and their parents, said Cauley.
“As the university’s enrollment has increased steadily over the past several years, we have seen incredible growth in undergraduate applications with a larger number of campus tour sessions and more meetings with prospective students,” he said. “Simply put, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has outgrown the existing Camp Building footprint and layout.”
WCU is looking to continue that trend of enrollment growth – a trajectory that is expected to continue as the NC Promise tuition plan comes online this fall – making this an opportune time to provide additional and enhanced space for the university’s admissions operations in offices located at the institution’s front entrance, said Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance.
“In our current situation, we are not having as good a first impression as we should on prospective students and their families,” Byers said. “Not only are they having difficulty finding the Office of Undergraduate Admissions because it is not located where they logically think it would be, but when they do get to the right place, they are faced with, quite frankly, a rather tired Camp Building.”
Once the conceptual phase of the admissions project is completed, the university will seek bids for an outside design consultant to do the work of designing the space. The goal, Ketchum said, is to have the admissions staff up and operational in the new space by the summer of 2019.
When the Office of Admissions staff vacates the Camp Building, the university will begin to address a myriad of deferred maintenance issues in the building, starting with roofing needs, Byers said.