The driver for growth at Western Carolina University and the Cullowhee could come via the Millennial Campus, but what to do with the 344-acre tract across the highway, and how to do it, remains elusive.
When the university bought the tract in 2005, doubling the doubling the size of WCU’s property holdings, some criticized the move as out-of-keeping with the university’s mission, unrealistic and wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars.
Former WCU Chancellor John Bardo had a sweeping vision for this Millennial Campus: He talked about melding academics, research, private industry, business and student housing into one vibrant entity.
New Chancellor David Belcher has inherited his predecessor’s blueprint, but has a tough job of actually making it happen during these hard-knock economic times. Belcher, however, indicated last week that he might be eyeing private enterprise to help jumpstart the project.
“That will be a great asset for the region, but that kind of development is going to have implications,” Belcher said. “You suddenly have a booming population … businesses will follow.”
The university has the right, under state law, to initiate the type of private development Belcher envisions on this Millennial Campus as long as WCU adheres to its academic mission. Belcher said that he anticipates the arrival of health clinics and doctors’ offices, where students could work and learn in a private-public set-up anchored by the new 160,000-square-foot, $46 million health and human sciences building.
He did not say whether WCU is now actively recruiting such private development.
The intention is for the health and human sciences building to serve as the cornerstone of a retirement, aging and health “neighborhood.” It would be a place where students and faculty would study and teach alongside a mixed-use area with the Belcher-envisioned private health-care providers, medical-device companies and specialized clinics.
The health and human sciences building is scheduled to open for classes this fall.
Belcher has put together a taskforce to study and think strategically about the university’s Millennial Campus. The group has been meeting since January.
Big dreams, little substance: WCU’s Millennial Campus
Seven years ago, using $2.87 million in state bond money, Western Carolina University bought 344 acres of land across the highway. The idea was to build a Millennial Campus, a showcase of how academics, research, private business and housing could be combined to enhance education.
To date the potential of the Millennial Campus has gone largely untapped. The mostly flat tract is home to just a single building: the $46 million health and human sciences building, set to open for classes this fall.
A new education building was next on the list, but has been sidelined because of funding shortfalls in the state budget.
University officials have estimated that up to 75 percent of the land, extending from the property line of the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching past the Jackson County Airport and along Little Savannah Road, is suitable for building. The land is across N.C. 107 from WCU’s main campus.