New student centers recommended
The UNC Board of Governors has approved East Carolina University plans for two new student centers, one on east campus and another on health sciences campus. The university has outgrown the current student center, Mendenhall, which opened in 1974. Pictured above, students gather outside Mendenhall Student Center. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)
East Carolina University’s plan to build two new student centers – one on main campus and one on the Division of Health Sciences campus – was reviewed favorably by the UNC Board of Governors on Friday, Feb. 21. The board voted to recommend that the $156.3 million project be authorized by the N.C. General Assembly when it reconvenes in May.
The ECU student centers are the largest of a dozen construction projects totaling $403.1 million that are planned for groundbreaking at UNC system campuses in the year ahead. UNC President Tom Ross recommended that the Board of Governors approve all 12.
In bringing the projects before the full board, Budget and Finance Committee Chair Louis Bissette said some concerns were raised about how the ECU project would impact student fees. ECU has said an increase of $425 in student fees – implemented in phases over three years – will support $128.8 million of the $156.3 million cost. The fee increase comes at a time when $133 of existing student fees will be eliminated, so students will pay no additional fees next year for this project.
Additional funds will come from other campus sources, including dining, Dowdy Student Stores, Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, parking, student health and student recreation.
Board member Henry Hinton of Greenville, an ECU alumnus, said ECU currently ranks eighth in the UNC system in the amount of student fees. “After this project, ECU will be fourth or third, and I think that’s reasonable and expected because it is the second-largest campus,” Hinton said.
The current Mendenhall Student Center was completed in 1974 when East Carolina had 11,000 students. Since then the student body has grown by more than 145 percent and an extensive health sciences campus with a population of more than 3,000 students rose around the medical school, the Board of Governors noted.
Plans call for the new student union on main campus to cover 210,000 square feet. Among other things, the facility will provide a new home for the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center. Other features include a 250-seat multi-purpose auditorium, office space for student government and student groups, multi-venue dining facilities, retail and service points, and a dividable ballroom.
The project includes a 700-car parking deck in the location of the parking lot to the west of the current student center. “If you’ve ever tried to park on campus, you understand how badly ECU needs that parking garage,” Hinton said.
The health sciences campus student services facility will be a 68,000-square-foot building housing a recreation and wellness center and student health services. The building also will provide space for student organizations, multipurpose spaces, a career center, meeting rooms, a lounge, a convenience store with an ATM and a food court with seating for 100 people.
It will be located between the East Carolina Heart Institute and Laupus Library on North Emergency Drive.
Once it receives approval from the General Assembly, ECU will issue bonds to pay for the student centers. Officials said the project expense will not put undue pressure on ECU’s debt service fee, which at $168 per student is the 14th lowest in the statewide system.
Other construction projects approved by the board include a plan by N.C. State University for a $35 million renovation to Reynolds Coliseum and a $46 million plan by UNC Charlotte for campus infrastructure improvements.