Architects selected, planning team assembling for western campus

The 800 acres owned by the state of North Carolina includes the current Broughton Hospital and its new site, under construction, as well as NC School for the Deaf and Western Piedmont Community College. NCSSM’s new campus will be located somewhere in this plot of land, in new or renovated buildings or a combination of both.

With an architectural team selected and searches underway for two key positions, advanced planning for the western campus of North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics is running ahead of schedule.

Chancellor Todd Roberts recently announced the selection of Durham-based firm, Duda|Paine Architects as the project lead. The firm was chosen from an initial field of 17 proposals, which was then narrowed to five finalists. A committee of NCSSM faculty, staff, alumni, UNC General Administration representatives, and stakeholders from Morganton, NC — where the school will be built — chose Duda|Paine from the final five candidates. The firm will work alongside an educational program consultant and a western campus director of planning, two positions that should be on board by early November, to help lead the advanced planning phase of the project, according to Roberts.

“These people will form the advanced planning team along with a committee of faculty and staff members, alumni, students, members of the business community, and UNC GA representatives. They’ll be working over the next 12 to 14 months to develop the educational program and the specific site,” Roberts says. The architectural team and two positions are being funded as part of the bond funding and planning funding allocated by the North Carolina General Assembly to design and plan the new school.

For guidance, the advanced planning team will draw on the work of the strategic planning group over the last year and the 10 results the members formulated for Strategy 9, “Articulate a vision for NCSSM with a western campus that strengthens our ability to achieve our mission of expanding opportunities for students and educators.”

“Duda|Paine is very excited about this project for so many reasons,” says partner Jeffrey Paine, noting that his firm’s time working on a master plan and STEM building design for NCSSM in 2008 helped his team get to know and understand the school. “The word that we always come back to is innovation — for the teaching model, and the innovation that comes out of the way in which students and faculty collaborate in this environment. In some ways it feels like NCSSM is a model for schools for the future.”

Duda|Paine has assembled a team for the Morganton project that includes Darren Lathan, the project manager, who grew up in Morganton and whose son is enrolled in NCSSM; Robert Salsbury, an architect in Morganton, and Eddie Belk, a Durham architect widely respected in the field of reuse and renovation of historical buildings. A number of the team members worked previously on a vision plan for the plot of state-owned land where the school will be created, an 800-acre plot that includes the NC School for the Deaf, Broughton Hospital, Western Piedmont Community College.

“We spent time getting to understand Morganton and the assets of the site,” says partner Turan Duda. The area is rich in agriculture, in education, and healthcare with a lot of history and respect for craftsmanship. Three themes rose to the top of the site: land stewardship, wellness, and education.”

Morganton City Manager Sally Sandy served on the final architect selection committee and says she is thrilled with the choice of Duda|Paine. “Many of the firms had the skill sets to do the job, that’s important, but Duda|Paine’s passion for their role and what this school can provide to young people in the state, I think they get that. And that’s the passion and culture of the Morganton community,” she says. Sandy adds that participating on the committee was a career highlight. “I see the potential of this project for this community, I see this project as really the catalyst. So for me to get to participate and interview a very qualified group of architectural firms and to get to hear and see their vision for how they see the process going, it was exciting.”

Sandy says she is excited for a school that will attract “the best and brightest students to this area — and their families. Once folks get to western North Carolina — if they are nature lovers and environmentally aware, they are going to love this area.”

Tom Williams, chair of NCSSM’s Board of Trustees, also served on the final architect selection committee. He is pleased with how inclusive the process has been, to date, and with the role that UNC General Assembly has played in advising Chancellor Roberts and Robert Allen, vice chancellor for finance and operations — including the loan of long-time UNC architect Gordon Rutherford throughout the selection process. He is also impressed with how well the team is moving the project along.

“While it’s a doable time frame, to open the facility in the summer 2021, it’s also a fairly aggressive timeline,” Williams says. “I’m pleased that in less than six months since voters approved the Connect NC Bond, we’ve already gone through a thoughtful process and hired an architect. And now we can go back to Strategy 9 and begin engaging a wide range of constituents for their ideas and feedback.”

Emily Fox Martine ‘88, mother of Max Martine ‘18 and secretary of the Parent Association, is one such constituent. “Overall, I’m all for anything that gives more students an opportunity. Living in Chapel Hill over the years, I’ve seen so many bright students not get in to NCSSM,” she says, because of space limitations.

Martine suggests ideas to consider for the new campus such as offering a bridge year for bright sophomores from low-resource communities, so they can try out the residential model, and faculty housing to entice high-caliber instructors and encourage visiting faculty appointments. “The school doesn’t have to copy what we have in Durham, this is an opportunity to think outside the box.”

Roberts agrees. The western campus “provides a tremendous opportunity to expand NCSSM’s mission of serving talented North Carolina students and teachers by building on what we have done so well for the past 35 years,” he says, “to imagine and plan for what the next 35 years can bring.”

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