WCU is consolidating its Asheville-based programs at a new venue in Biltmore Park this fall

By BILL STUDENC MPA ’10

More than $1 million worth of equipment intended to help Western Carolina University develop a high-fidelity simulation laboratory to train the next generation of nursing professionals to administer anesthesia to patients has been sitting in unopened boxes since last summer. The equipment, purchased with federal grant funds from the Health Resources Services Administration, includes a human patient simulator that can recognize and react to what medications are being administered to it, record video of students practicing nurse anesthesia skills and capture data detailing the simulation that can be used by professors in reviewing how well students are doing.

Because of space limitations in the School of Nursing’s facilities at the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College campus in Enka, students have been unable to use the equipment. That’s all about to change, however, as WCU’s Asheville-based nursing programs will be getting a new home this fall at an instructional site in Biltmore Park Town Square, along with other graduate and undergraduate academic programs currently taught at locations across Buncombe County.

The roughly 25,000 square feet of space at Biltmore Park, an upscale mixed-use community located at Exit 37 of Interstate 26 between Asheville and Hendersonville, will contain 10 classrooms of various sizes, a multipurpose room and a conference room, all equipped with computers, projectors, blue-ray players, document cameras and movable classroom furniture.

MBA student Davida Falk and Scott Rader, WCU assistant professor of sales and marketing, discuss fall semester plans outside of WCU’s new site in Biltmore Park Town Square.

In addition to space for the long-awaited simulation laboratory for nurse anesthesia students, the facility will include a nursing skills lab. The simulated hospital and outpatient care environment will allow students to learn basic and advanced skills in the safety of the clinical laboratory. It features equipment that mimics what students will experience in the real world including cardiac monitors, defibrillator, oxygen and airway management simulation, and other materials that provide a realistic environment for student practice. Work is under way on the site this summer, and it will be open in August for fall semester classes.

Western Carolina has offered a variety of programs in Asheville since 1937, and currently provides more than 20 academic programs at various sites in Buncombe County, including at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the Enka campus of A-B Tech, for some 600 students. Space and access constraints at those sites have limited the university’s ability to meet the educational needs of the people of the greater Asheville area, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said. “The Biltmore Park site provides space for the growth of programs such as nurse anesthesia and the opportunity to offer classes during the day, at night and on weekends,” Belcher said. Consolidation of WCU’s Asheville-based offerings into one location will mean expanded access to university-level programming to better serve the educational needs of Western North Carolinians in the Buncombe-Henderson corridor, he said.

WCU has been exploring ways to meet growing demand for higher education and professional development in Asheville and Hendersonville, and in the residential and business corridor between the cities, for years. That need became increasingly apparent after numerous meetings across the region to introduce Belcher, who became WCU chancellor July 1, 2011, to the region. “We heard time and again from people all over the mountains, from Murphy to Morganton, that they want greater access to our classes. We heard it especially loud and clear from folk in Hendersonville and along the I-26 corridor, which is among the fastest growing areas of North Carolina,” Belcher said. “By consolidating our academic offerings in one central location, we will be much better able to meet the professional and graduate program needs of a key area of our region.”

Jack Cecil, president of Biltmore Farms LLC, said he is excited about the community’s newest neighbor. “We are very pleased that Western Carolina University is opening its new consolidated instructional site in Biltmore Park Town Square,” Cecil said. “This WCU location will accelerate economic growth along the I-26 corridor by bringing a regional research university that provides advanced and technical degrees to the southern Buncombe and northern Henderson area. The educational research component that WCU will add to this region has been noted by many economic developers as a key driver of job growth in many other successful communities around the state and nation.”

Among those glad to see WCU’s programs in a more central location is N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca ’80, chairman of the N.C. Senate Rules Committee. “Improving access to WCU’s higher education offerings for people in the Henderson County area is something I have been interested in and actively working for a long time,” said Apodaca, a Hendersonville businessman. “We were pretty close to making it happen back in 2007, but then the economy tanked and we had to back off. I think that it is wonderful that WCU is coming to Biltmore Park now. Sure, I would rather they come a little bit farther down the interstate to Hendersonville, but this central location between Asheville and Hendersonville will enable the university to serve a much larger population base in Western North Carolina. I can tell you that people truly are excited about this, especially business and industry.”

Students who take classes in the new facility also should be excited, said Patsy Miller MAED ’82, director of WCU’s Asheville-based programs. “This walkable community is home to several outstanding restaurants where students can unwind after class, a variety of stores, shops and boutiques, a day spa and a movie theater,” Miller said. The university is in negotiations with a YMCA in the community and with professionals to provide recreation, health, counseling and other student services, she said. “As with any move, there will be some angst as we go through the process,” Miller said. “But once students and faculty see our new site, they are going to love it.”

Click here for more information about programs at Biltmore Park.