Western Carolina University held a groundbreaking Friday for the Tom Apodaca Science Building, named for the influential former Republican state senator.
The ceremony in Cullowhee was attended by 200, including a who’s who of more than a dozen current and former state lawmakers. Among those in the crowd were Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger of Eden and former Sen. Tony Rand, a Democrat from Fayetteville.
The $110 million facility, made possible by the 2016 statewide,$2 billion Connect NC bond referendum, will replace a 1970s-era science building. Construction on the six-story building should be finished in time for a June 2021 opening.
Apodaca, of Hendersonville, left the legislature in 2016 and became a lobbyist. A 1980 WCU graduate and former trustee, he has been a staunch supporter of the university.
He was the prime mover of legislation to create a reduced tuition plan that will benefit students from WCU, Elizabeth City State and UNC Pembroke. The program, called NC Promise, begins this fall and sets in-state tuition at $1,000 a year and out-of-state tuition at $5,000 a year.
The building will include five stories of laboratory, classroom, assembly and office space, with the sixth story serving as a “mechanical penthouse.” It will feature a large, 150-person lecture hall, a science commons area on the first floor and a rooftop plaza for astronomy observations.
At the ceremony, according to a release from the university, Apodaca said: “Our region of the state is often forgotten – but not today. More than anything, my hope is this building will represent opportunity for the future, including my goddaughter, Maloy, and newborn grandson, River.”
UNC President Margaret Spellings told Apodaca he had “delivered results” for the university, the UNC system and the state.
The building will be used by a variety of students studying science, including 600 students in nursing, and nearly that number majoring in technology and engineering programs.
Western Carolina has been in steady growth mode for years. It has 11,000 students, including more than 9,400 undergraduate students on the campus in Cullowhee, about an hour west of Asheville.
On Thursday, the university launched a $60 million campaign with a goal of reaching the target in 2019. At the campaign kickoff, the university revealed a $5 million pledge – the largest ever donation for scholarships – for education students from Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The gift is from Mickey Charles Hughes of Falls Church, Va., who endowed a scholarship fund in memory of his mother, Velma “Leone” Hyde Hughes Ray, a teacher and 1941 graduate of WCU.