Structured parking facility construction postponed; three new lots to come online

A new gravel parking lot and access road constructed on a hill to the north and east of Norton Road is shown in this aerial photo. It is scheduled to open Feb. 15 and includes spaces for 100 vehicles to park.

The start of construction on Western Carolina University’s first structured parking facility has been postponed until May 2020 as university officials prepare to open the first of three new lots that will add a total of 760 new spaces to the campus parking inventory.

Plans call for the structured parking facility, or parking deck, to be built on an existing surface lot that is known as the North Baseball Lot and situated between Ramsey Regional Activity Center and Hennon Stadium. The 1,000-space parking facility will include three levels, with greenspace around it for tailgating prior to athletics events. Because of its proximity to N.C. Highway 107, the facility will become the university’s primary parking area for commuting students, with shuttle service to the center of campus.

The timeline for the structured parking facility originally called for construction to be begin immediately following WCU’s December 2018 commencement ceremonies, with a projected completion by the opening of fall semester 2019. That “very aggressive” schedule was set in an effort to limit the impact on university parking availability – the loss of the North Baseball Lot as it became a construction zone – to just the current spring semester, said Mike Byers, WCU vice chancellor for administration and finance.

The structured parking facility will be built in the existing parking lot between Ramsey Regional Activity Center and Hennon Stadium. (Rendering courtesy of Walter Robbs Architecture)

However, delays occurred in the preparation of design documents last fall that made a December construction start unrealistic, leading to the revision of the project timeline, Byers said. “As our planned start date approached, we were unprepared to begin work but we also were learning that the eight-month construction schedule would only work under absolutely perfect conditions,” he said.

The new timeline calls for construction to begin May 18, 2020, and for the facility to be completed by April 16, 2021, with the bidding process to take place next fall. Factors that will affect the university parking situation over the next two years, including an expected record enrollment next fall and construction projects to replace Scott and Walker residence halls, were considered and the conclusion was that May 2020 through April 2021 provided the best window of opportunity to complete the structured parking facility with the least negative impact, Byers said.

With previous plans calling for the North Baseball Lot to be unavailable for parking during the current semester, university officials have been working to add additional lots to the university’s parking inventory to offset the loss of those spaces. With the delay in construction on the structured parking facility, the North Baseball Lot will remain open for parking, but three new lots are still scheduled to come online. An overall budget of $26 million has been set to cover the cost of the structured parking facility and the new lots, with special obligation bonds to be issued and financed in future years through revenue from university parking rates, Byers said.

The first new lot, scheduled to open Feb. 15, is located off Norton Road across from Norton Residence Hall and is considered a temporary lot as it will remain gravel, said Matt Ketchum, WCU’s director of facilities planning, design and construction. The 100-space lot is essentially a gravel road with concrete wheel stops along the sides for vehicles.

An expansion of the overflow lot across Little Savanah Road from the Health and Human Sciences Building will add an additional 237 parking spaces. This aerial photo shows where land has been cleared for construction in two phases.

The second new parking lot will expand the overflow lot across Little Savannah Road from the Health and Human Sciences Building. The first phase, which includes 148 spaces, will be open by the end of March, and the second phase, with 89 more spaces, is expected to open in early May.

The largest of the three new lots, with 423 spaces, is being constructed off Central Drive, across from Judaculla Residence Hall. It is scheduled to be available for use in time for fall semester and improve the parking situation in the Central Drive area as the new Levern Hamlin Allen Residence Hall, with 600 beds, opens that semester, Ketchum said.

Discussions are ongoing among university officials as to the designation of the three new parking lots among the university groups – resident and commuting students, faculty and staff.

Yet another construction project was completed recently that will allow the South Baseball Lot to remain open after the North Baseball Lot is closed for construction of the structured parking facility, Ketchum said. Previously, the only access to the South Baseball Lot for vehicles was through the North Baseball Lot, but an access road has now been built to allow vehicles to enter and exit the 159-space South Baseball Lot directly off Speedwell Road.