With the dedication of new Balsam and Blue Ridge residence halls, the university equivalent of a “total remodel” home improvement project is nearly complete. All that remains now is some major landscaping to tie all the pieces together.
The transformation of the center of the Western Carolina campus from a university where a trip from the student union to the cafeteria often involved dodging heavy traffic on a busy state road to one with a pedestrian-friendly, traditional college quad was made possible by the relocation of Centennial Drive away from the center core of campus in 2005.
The remodel included a major renovation to A.K. Hinds University Center completed in 2004 that added 34,000 square feet of space, resulting in a new “living room” where students could gather out of the classroom. The Campus Recreation Center, which opened in fall 2008, is a 73,000-square-foot “rec room” featuring an indoor climbing wall and jogging track, along with a fully equipped fitness area and two multipurpose courts. The 53,000-square-foot Courtyard Dining Hall began operations in 2009, giving students a new “dining room,” with options ranging from an all-you-can-eat venue with multiple food stations to a mall-style food court. Now, with the opening of Balsam Residence Hall in 2009 and Blue Ridge Hall this year through a $50 million construction project, 800 students have new bedrooms.
Residents of the new halls include members of WCU’s Honors College, which also has office space in the ground floor of Balsam Hall. The residential college for high-achieving students has grown from 77 students in 1997 to more than 1,400 undergraduates representing all disciplines. The lower level of Blue Ridge Hall features new campus conference facilities capable of accommodating more than 300 people.
Brian Railsback, dean of the Honors College, said that the new residence halls make an excellent home for his students and will play a role in helping recruit even larger numbers of academically gifted students in the years ahead. “These two impressive residences are a marvel of careful design and are now home to a vibrant social life. These are important things, but they are not the most important,” Railsback said. “Above all, this facility is a place for learning. Working in the numerous study rooms together in groups, or working alone in their rooms, students here are doing the research and creative work initiated by challenges from our faculty. The students who pass through these halls are becoming professionals or top candidates for graduate school, set to make a difference in their world – and much of that transformation happens right here in the residence.”
The Nov. 30 dedication ceremony also include recognition of a plaque located on the exterior wall of Blue Ridge Hall marking the site of Leatherwood Hall, which was leveled to make room for Blue Ridge, and to honor the contributions of those for whom the building was named – Therman and Nell M. Leatherwood. Work is under way on a campus center, with landscaping, walkways and a circular, zero-depth fountain being built between the Alumni Tower and Blue Ridge and Balsam. The majority of the project is expected to be completed by April or May.
Hundreds of students call the new residence halls Balsam and Blue Ridge home, so it’s only fitting that photographs by members of the WCU family line the walls.
During the past decade, the university has concentrated on upgrading common spaces in residence halls, said Keith Corzine ’82, director of residential living. Often this means adding pictures or prints. “It’s a nice touch, and it makes it feel more like home,” Corzine said. As Blue Ridge and Balsam progressed, “we knew we wanted to move in that direction.”
Enter Megan Cavanah ’10, a resident assistant at the time the new halls were being built and now a WCU graduate student in mathematics. Her dad is not only an alumus, Cavanah told Corzine, but is a photographer. As it turned out, Corzine and Doug Cavanah ’82 were classmates. When Corzine saw Doug Cavanah’s work, he was sold. “He’s an incredible photographer,” Corzine said.
Ultimately Cavanah, a full-time fine art photographer who lives part time in Franklin, contributed more than a dozen Western North Carolina nature prints that hang primarily in Balsam. Four large black-and-white photos hang prominently in the entrance hall to the Blue Ridge Conference Center. “We wanted that space to have a gallery feel,” Corzine said.
“I am extremely proud that my pictures are hanging there,” said Cavanah, who forgoes digital in favor of a large-format view camera. “The school has made tremendous progress since I graduated, campus is beautiful, the students seem to be engaged, and I’m just happy with all that WCU has accomplished.”
Corzine turned to another member of the WCU family, junior communication major and resident assistant Jarrett Frazier, to round out the photographs. Frazier, a Sylva native, has worked with university photographer Mark Haskett ’87 since his freshman year and commonly turns up with his camera at campus events. Corzine has used Frazier’s work at open houses and other recruiting events, and also liked Frazier’s nature shots. “He had a nice portfolio to choose from,” Corzine said. The walkway lounge above the arch connecting the two residence halls is a showcase for a series of Frazier’s wildflowers.
For printing and mounting the photos (with the exception of Cavanah’s black-and-white images, which he printed himself), Corzine turned to Tom Frazier ’79, Jarrett’s father and WCU manager of printing, mailing and PAW Print services, who also helped select photos for display. (Jarrett Frazier’s mother is Vickey Frazier ’75, and his brother is Patrick Frazier ’07, WCU assistant director of admission.)
“A lot of visioning went into that residence hall project, and it’s really nice when the finished project – which includes the Doug Cavanah touch and a Jarrett Frazier touch and Tom Frazier imprint – is greater than the vision you had for it, and that’s how I felt about this project,” Corzine said.