New Natural Sciences Building at WCU

Connect NC Bond Q&A with WCU Chancellor David Belcher

Western Carolina University’s Connect NC Bond project would replace the University’s existing Natural Sciences Building, which was constructed in the 1970s. This bond would provide $110 million to demolish the old building, design and construct a new building, and replace antiquated laboratory equipment. The proposed building would offer a unique, flexible configuration that promotes interdisciplinary collaboration, student engagement and community connections.

Additionally, the project site design will implicitly strengthen the science quad and integrate site context; however, because the building would be located where the current Natural Sciences Building stands and because WCU does not have swing-space for laboratories, construction is planned in two phases. Half of the new building will be constructed next to the old building. Once classes move to the new space, the old building will be demolished, and the second half of the new building will be constructed. It is estimated that advance planning and design will take place over a 20-month period and that construction will take 24 months.

Quote: We must be able to offer our students the opportunity to learn state-of-the-art technology, to work with advanced methods and to learn in 21st-century classrooms and laboratories.

Why is this particular project important to WCU?

Western Carolina University is the largest — and, in such fields such as engineering, forensic science and nurse anesthetist, the only — educational institution in western North Carolina preparing students to meet the continually growing regional workforce demands in health care, high-tech manufacturing, and natural products development. Each of these areas represents significant economic development growth potential for the region and, in turn, income growth for the state. That growth is largely dependent on our ability to meet the workforce needs. With this in mind, WCU must replace its existing Natural Sciences Building in order to allow for increased capacity in courses such as chemistry and biology that are foundational to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degree programs.

To put the need in perspective, the current Natural Sciences Building was built in the 1970s when WCU had only 15 nursing majors and no engineering majors. Today, WCU has roughly 2,300 students majoring in health and human science programs, almost 600 in technology and engineering programs, and approximately 500 in biological and physical science programs.

The current building also has myriad maintenance issues that are more than just out-of-fashion and outdated; they are detrimental to teaching, learning, and research. The building must be replaced to increase both the quantity and quality of space for our students.

How does the selected project help meet WCU’s stated educational goals?

WCU’s mission as a regional, comprehensive institution is focused on quality education and preparation for responsible citizenship in a changing world. Since our founding 125 years ago, we have grown in size to become a major cultural, scientific, and educational force in the region and the state—and we’re still growing. In order to continue to meet our mission, we must be able to offer our students the opportunity to learn state-of-the-art technology, to work with advanced methods and to learn in 21st-century classrooms and laboratories. Replacing the Natural Sciences Building is critical part of providing these opportunities and serving our students.

What impact will completion of the project have beyond the campus?

A highly trained workforce in STEM fields -- a workforce that is competent, capable, and local -- is the leverage that community and economic development leaders need to attract more companies and quality jobs to locate in western North Carolina. In addition, for western North Carolina to compete at the state and national levels, and on the global stage, we need successful students who graduate ready to face the world in agriculture, technology, construction, health care, or other fields.

What other benefits of the bond passage would you like to discuss?

The Connect NC bond package is truly a catalyst for regional and statewide development, with huge impacts on our region.  Western North Carolina alone would see investments of at least $175 million (with more possible) through funds available for water and sewer infrastructure.  These improvements also help our community and economic development leaders attract more companies and quality job in our region.

Chancellor Belcher talks about WCU's new Natural Sciences Building.