Campus entrance signs, other projects get approval to proceed

The main entrance to the Western Carolina University campus soon will have a new look after the Board of Trustees approved a design concept for curved stone wall signage at the intersection of Centennial Drive and N.C. Highway 107.

New signage at the main entrance to campus in Cullowhee, expanded off-site classroom and laboratory space in Asheville and additional storage for items from a collection of Southern Appalachian artifacts are in the works at Western Carolina University.

The WCU Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed a design for front entrance signage at the intersection of Centennial Drive and N.C. Highway 107, approved the lease of 39,777 additional square feet of space at WCU’s instructional site at Biltmore Park to meet increasing demand for educational programs, and authorized university officials to seek secure, climate-controlled storage space for Mountain Heritage Center museum pieces. The action came during the board’s quarterly meeting Friday, June 1.

Current plans call for the initial installation of two curved stone walls, a minimum of 4 feet in height, similar in appearance to rock walls at overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway and emblazoned with the name “Western Carolina University.” The first two markers are planned for the main entrance of campus, with branded stone-wall signage at other entrances, including at Forest Hills Road, old Cullowhee Road and Little Savannah Road.

“Currently, the two large shoulders of rock along Catamount Gap define the threshold of campus. You pass through the gap, and you know you have arrived at WCU,” said Matt Ketchum, director of facilities planning, design and construction. “We hope to duplicate that feeling of arrival when you pull into campus.”

The university has no existing signage at the front entrance to campus, other than state Department of Transportation directional signs and historical placards.

The first phase of the sign installation project is expected to be completed by June 2019, with other branded stone walls installed at other entrances to campus on a staggered basis.

In other projects, WCU is looking to expand its footprint at its Biltmore Park facilities. “Simply put, we are out of space at Biltmore Park,” said Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

WCU consolidated graduate and undergraduate academic programs that had been offered at locations across Buncombe County under one roof in approximately 25,0000 square feet of space at Biltmore Park Town Square in 2012. The university added another 11,000 square feet on the ground floor of the same building at 28 Schenck Parkway in 2014 to accommodate an expansion of its undergraduate engineering program to meet industry demand in the Asheville-Hendersonville area.

With new advanced degree programs in social work and physical therapy coming online in the year ahead along with enrollment growth in existing programs, additional educational space is needed, Byers told the board.

For project three, more storage for artifacts from the collection of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center has become necessary as university officials begin planning for the renovation of the ground floor of H.F. Robinson Building, where the museum of Southern Appalachian culture was located prior to its move to Hunter Library in 2015.

Although exhibit and office space relocated out of the Robinson Building, the Mountain Heritage Center maintains storage space in the building, Byers said.

“As we begin gearing up to vacate the ground floor of HFR for renovations, we need to find a place to store those items,” he said. “You don’t just put that kind of stuff in a typical storage unit. These are museum-quality items, and you need secured space that is climate-controlled.”

University officials have not yet identified an appropriate storage facility, but the board action authorizes them to begin searching for space and enter into a lease agreement.