“I think I’m on record as saying we would have the machines ready the minute commencement ended in December,” Mike Byers, WCU’s vice chancellor for administration and finance, told the trustees’ Finance and Audit Committee Feb. 28. “We encountered problems as we went through design, and when we still weren’t able to start construction in the middle of January we decided we needed to take a second look at our project schedule.”
The nail in the coffin was learning that it would take “absolutely perfect” weather conditions to get the deck done in the small window that remained. Anyone who’s been in Western North Carolina in the past year knows that perfect conditions have been elusive.
Under the original plan, WCU would start construction in December 2018 and finish in time for the fall semester this year. Fall semesters typically have higher enrollment than spring semesters. Because construction will occur on a site that’s currently in use as a parking lot, university officials hoped to avoid dealing with restricted parking options during a fall semester.
The new plan, however, calls for a full year of construction. The university will begin construction after commencement in May 2020 and finish the following May. However, as fall semesters go, 2020 will be the best possible time to be down one parking lot, said Byers, because that’s also when WCU will discontinue use of the Scott and Walker residence halls. Plans are in motion to demolish the 50-year-old buildings and replace them with a collection of modern residence halls on the lower campus.
“We believe that taking this parking lot offline in favor of building this garage at the same time Scott and Walker are offline really aligns nicely with what we need to do as far as parking supply,” said Byers.
The two residence halls are currently home to 1,150 students, and the North Baseball Parking Lot where the parking deck will be built holds 400 parking spaces. By the time Scott and Walker come down, a new 600-bed residence hall will be complete on upper campus and a 500-bed housing complex will be finished on the Millennial Campus, which is outside of the main campus and does not draw from its parking resources.
In their September 2018 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved a request to borrow up to $26 million for parking deck construction, though Byers said he believed the cost would actually be under $20 million. The project is not yet under contract — it will go out to bid in early 2020. The debt service will be paid using revenue from parking fees.
The North Baseball site is one of three locations on campus that the Board of Trustees added as future parking deck locations in the university’s master plan during its March 2018 meeting. The other sites are Lot 21, known as the former band practice field, and Lot 37, the four-tiered commuter lot across from Hunter Library. The Camp Lot had already been designated as a future parking deck site.