Administrators provide updates on strategic plan, master plan initiatives

Construction continues on the first phase of WCU’s Apodaca Science Building, which will be located behind the 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building that it will replace.

It was sort of the Western Carolina University equivalent of a breaking news story causing changes in network television programming when the introductory address by Chancellor-elect Kelli R. Brown forced university officials to cancel a previously scheduled spring public forum.

The annual event, designed to allow WCU administrators to share updates on several topics of interest to members of the campus community, had been scheduled for Monday, April 29. University leadership decided to use the time already set aside for the forum to hold an event to introduce the university’s chancellor-elect.

Two of the scheduled speakers – Tim Metz, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness, and Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance, have posted online the information that would have been shared at that forum.

Metz was planning to give a summary of the university’s progress on meeting goals found in WCU’s strategic plan. Originally adopted in 2012 as “2020 Vision: Focusing Our Future,” the document was revised last year in response to changes in the internal and external environments and is now informally referred to as “2020 2.0.”

The revised plan was approved by the WCU Board of Trustees in June 2018 and was implemented in September 2018. “This represents the first year under the revised ‘2020 Vision 2.0’ strategic plan,” Metz said.

The revised plan maintains seven strategic directions, and six directions are roughly equivalent to the strategic directions of the original 2020 strategic plan, he said. In addition, a new strategic direction on inclusive excellence was added.

The plan includes 29 goals and 72 initiatives, whereas the original strategic plan involved 26 goals and 116 initiatives. The revised plan also includes evaluation metrics for each initiative, as well as a timeline and a priority level.

“Good progress has been made toward achievement of the strategic initiatives in the past eight months. Forty-six initiatives are at least 50 percent completed, and 11 initiatives are more than 90 percent completed,” Metz said.

Highlights include:

* successful completion of the “Lead the Way” campaign, with more than $61 million in donations, the majority of which will support student scholarships.

* strong support of staff development, with a combined 118 professional development events offered by the Office of Human Resources and Coulter Faculty Commons.

* establishment of a Community Vision Statement and calendar of diversity-related events, in support of inclusive excellence.

* the hosting two public events in support of the region’s outdoor economy.

Byers was planning to update the campus community on construction and renovation projects underway or on the drawing boards as part of the university’s evolving master plan.

Largest among them is the Apodaca Science Building, a $110 million construction project made possible through funding from the 2016 statewide $2 billion Connect NC bond referendum that will result in replacement of WCU’s 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building.

Concrete and steel are rising rapidly from the ground at the construction site adjacent to the existing Natural Sciences Building and Hunter Library, Byers said. Approximately 15 percent of the concrete pouring has been completed, he said, with erection of steel beams continuing until midsummer.

“We are about 90 percent complete on concrete footings and walls,” he said. “The next major milestone will be the pouring of decks, which should start in the middle of May. Construction will continue until 2021.”

Not far away from that project, on Central Drive, the new 600-bed residence hall that will be known as Levern Hamlin Allen Hall is nearing completion, Byers said. The facility, located between Judaculla Hall and Brown Hall, is on schedule for occupancy for students when the school year begins in August.

Concerning another project on Central Drive, university officials are hoping that the remaining funding necessary to update WCU’s ancient steam plant will be part of the state budget, once the General Assembly reaches consensus and a final budget bill is signed by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper.

WCU received a $750,000 appropriation for advance planning in 2017 and, in 2018, received the first $16.5 million installment to begin design and construction to replace a decades-old system that supplies heat and hot water to campus. “We are hopeful that the remaining $16.5 million necessary to make this long-awaited update a reality will be allocated to the university this year,” Byers said.

A long-discussed plan to modernize student housing and replace WCU’s two largest residence halls took major steps toward reality in March with the approval by the university’s Board of Trustees of a design concept for their eventual replacements.

The university is planning to take down the nine-story Scott and Walker halls, traditional dormitory-style housing located near the front entrance of campus, after the end of the 2019-20 academic year and replace them with modern facilities, Byers said.

And, just off campus sits a potential project of great interest to the university and the surrounding community. Earlier this year, the university received an engineering report commissioned by nonprofit group American Rivers indicating that removal of a WCU-owned dam on the Tuckaseigee River may be possible without jeopardizing a source of water that serves not only the campus but also much of Jackson County.

The report, also delivered to the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority, summarizes the findings of a study of the 1930s-era dam conducted by the engineering firm McGill Associates. Intakes for raw water that is treated and distributed to WCU and TWSA customers are located at the dam, which raises the river level behind it.

WCU and TWSA are seeking further study to determine what effect long-term drought could have on the water supply if there is not a dam in place to create an impoundment before any decision is made.