Western Carolina University breaks ground on $110m science building


The Western Carolina University (WCU), US, has broken ground on the university’s Tom Apodaca Science Building.

The $110m facility is being funded from the 2016 state-wide $2bn Connect NC bond referendum and will replace WCU’s 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building.

Construction on the 182,989ft2, six-storey structure will begin later in 2018 and it is expected to be occupied by June 2021.

The building will include five floors of laboratory, classroom, assembly and office space, and the sixth storey will serve as a ‘mechanical penthouse’.

It will also feature a 150-person lecture hall, a science commons area on the first floor and a rooftop plaza for astronomy observations.

In December 2016, the WCU board of trustees decided to name the building in honour of former North Caroline Senator Thomas Apodaca in recognition of his service to and support of the Western North Carolina region and the university.

Apodaca was a member of the WCU board from 1997 until he was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 2002.

Apodaca said: “I’m enormously honoured and deeply touched. This centre of science learning is actually a recognition of Western Carolina University’s importance.”

WCU’s trustees current chair Patricia Kaemmerling said: “This building will offer Western Carolina University’s students the high-quality classrooms and laboratories necessary for a 21st-century education.

“This building also will serve as a hub for regional economic development in Western North Carolina, capitalising on the expertise of Western Carolina’s faculty.”

WCU acting Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar said that the genesis for a new building for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes began six years ago when Chancellor David Belcher launched a master plan to align the physical plant of the campus with priorities of the strategic plan, titled ‘2020 Vision: Focusing Our Future’.

WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences dean Richard Starnes said that when the current Natural Sciences Building was built, WCU enrolled 6,000 students, 60% of them education majors, with only 15 nursing majors and no engineering programmes.

Starnes said that today, WCU has more than 600 students majoring in nursing, and almost an equal number majoring in technology and engineering programmes – all taking chemistry, biology and other science classes in a building not suited for 21st-century instruction.

He said: “This building will provide a state-of-the-art facility for our university to better fulfil that sacred calling of changing lives. For the people of our mountains and our state, there is nothing more important.”

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