With its largest academic building to date being showcased this weekend as it nears 100 percent completion, Appalachian State isn’t taking a breather on major construction projects.
It’s picking up the pace.
Receptions, a media tour, grand opening and ribbon cutting were scheduled at the Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences on Thursday and Friday to celebrate the completion (minus a number of punch list items) of the five-story, 203,000-square-foot brick building at the corner of State Farm and Deerfield roads. The university is touting the state-of-the-art facility in Boone’s medical district as the first project funded by the March 2016 Connect NC state bond referendum to reach the finish line. But the project has been planned for much of the last decade.
The UNC Board of Governors approved ASU’s plans to establish a College of Health Sciences in 2008, and the college was established in 2010. In spring 2012, the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System pledged that it would donate a tract near the Watauga Medical Center to the university if ASU could secure funding for the health sciences building by the end of 2014. But state funding for capital projects was said to be constrained as North Carolina continued to recover from an economic recession, and funding was ultimately left up to the voters. The bond referendum passed by a 2-to-1 margin.
Village at the Rock
If “slow and steady wins the race” is the story of the College of Health Sciences building, Appalachian State’s multi-building student housing project, by comparison, is moving along at breakneck speed.
“In less than one year from our issuance of our RFQ for this project, work has begun,” said Matt Dull, assistant vice chancellor for finance and operations in the Division of Student Affairs, to the ASU Board of Trustees Student Affairs Committee on Thursday.
Dull was referring to the Village at the Rock, a public-private housing project near Kidd Brewer Stadium that will consist of four large buildings to replace seven residence halls: Bowie, Coltrane, Eggers, Gardner, Winkler (demolished in 2014), Justice and East. ASU requested qualifications from interested developers in fall 2017, followed by a request for proposals deadline in January of this year, developer selection this spring, permit applications in June and, in August, site work began for the project’s four-story, 486-space parking deck going up in Stadium Lot.
As proposed, the project will be built by the developer, RISE, and owned by a nonprofit special purpose entity, which will lease the land from the university. ASU will oversee staffing, programming and general maintenance in the dorms, and all assets will be transferred to the university after a lease period of 38 years.
ASU leaders say the estimated costs for the university to develop the same project would be $255 million, compared with the $182 million proposed by RISE.
The project was also discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the trustees’ Business Affairs Committee. Committee Chairperson Scott Lampe said he knew that some will say “we’re destroying the world by doing a P3,” but “this is one of the reasons why.”
Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte, who joined Appalachian in 2016, said, “I had to be brought over as a convert. When the bids (on a Winkler Hall replacement) came in high, (Chancellor) Sheri (Everts), Scott told me, ‘You better do a P3.’ It was a great revelation for all of us.”
A predevelopment agreement with RISE has been executed, and Appalachian State will seek additional board of governors approvals to enter into a ground lease, development agreement, management agreement and parking facility lease, Dull said on Thursday.
ASU has dipped its toe in public-private partnerships in the past with housing projects such as Mountaineer Hall. But the university could now be stepping on the gas as it continues to seek “Millennial Campus” designation for increasing amounts of campus acreage, including its newest satellite property on N.C. 105.
Millennial Campus designation gives the university the flexibility to enter into agreements with private sector firms to develop campus properties, facilitates issuing bonds to finance development of the properties and allows the university to keep all revenues related to leasing space in the properties.
The trustees in June gave approval to seek state Millennial Campus authority for the old Watauga High School property, dubbed “Appalachian 105,” consisting of approximately 75 acres; the Legends site, consisting of approximately 2.1 acres; the Howard Street property, consisting of approximately 0.6 acres; Appalachian Panhellenic Hall, consisting of approximately 5.5 acres; and an expansion of the existing University Hall Millennial site, consisting of approximately 6.7 acres.
The designation request will go before the UNC system Board of Governors for approval next month.
In August, following a closed session in a special meeting, the trustees voted to request BOG approval to move forward with planning of the athletics portion of the Appalachian 105 property. Forte said the athletics facilities planned at the site include a track, tennis courts, softball field and other facilities related to Olympic sports.
As for the other portion of the 105 project, Forte said the university will soon present a list of priorities to the BOG, and it is currently talking to developers about ideas for the property. Parking, event space, housing, recreation and athletics have all been suggested as potential uses. Millennial Campus designation will give ASU more opportunities to seek P3s and streamlined approvals, he said.
The university is moving quickly on the athletics portion, Forte said, because the Kidd Brewer Stadium end zone project is planned to open in fall 2020, and the removal of the track from the stadium is part of that project.
“We’re doing everything fast; we want to be as rapid as possible,” said Forte.
ASU remains in the design phase for its end zone project, which, as approved by the trustees in December last year, would be a mixed-use development that will replace the Owens Field House and include club level stadium seats, athletic training rooms, offices, retail, food service and an orthopedic clinic to be leased by a third party. At the time, the project cost was estimated at $38.2 million.
Forte told the trustees on Thursday that the project has undergone some design changes to bring it within budget. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2019.
The Business Affairs Committee also heard a brief update on the project to renovate and modernize Sanford Hall, a 50-year-old academic building that sees about 4,600 students per day.
ASU leaders are currently interviewing design firms for the $18 million project, which is slated to begin construction in July 2019.