Like downtown Durham, the campus of N.C. Central University will soon be a busy hub of construction.
In 2019, the university will break ground on several large projects that promise to reshape the campus experience for the 8,200 students at the historically black campus near downtown Durham. Construction includes three new residential buildings, a new business school and a $47 million student center. The buildings will replace aging structures, some of which will be demolished.
“We’re very excited about where we’re going,” Akua Matherson, associate vice chancellor for administration and finance, said last month in a media briefing about the building plan.
NCCU will enter into a new form of development to lease land to private interests that will build and operate three residential buildings with 1,270 new beds. Earlier this month, the UNC Board of Governors approved a ground lease and an arrangement involving NCCU and two private partners — Corvias Development and Provident Group-NCCU Properties LLC, a subsidiary of a Georgia nonprofit corporation.
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Under the deal, Corvias will build the project and Provident will own and operate it, according to a term sheet reviewed by the board. Provident will pay lease payments to NCCU for the land, and the university won’t bear up-front costs to build the dorms. After a maximum of 50 years, the buildings will become property of NCCU and until then, NCCU will have some input into the rental rates charged to its students.
NCCU Chancellor Johnson Akinleye said the $123 million project will allow the university to alleviate a housing shortage and require freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. A few years ago, NCCU officials sought to extend the on-campus living mandate to sophomores, but quickly found they didn’t have enough rooms. The university had to seek space off campus, including one floor of the Doubletree Hotel in Durham.
Currently, about 35 percent of NCCU students live on campus. Akinleye said he’d like to see that percentage climb higher, above 40 percent.
“Our students really do want to live on campus,” he said last month, adding, “Research shows that if you can do that, it helps with retention rates and graduation rates.”
In NCCU’s case, the UNC system board designated 30 acres at NCCU as a “millennial campus” in order to facilitate private development there.
So-called public-private partnerships are becoming more common, because they allow universities to quickly meet student housing demand by turning to the private market to finance and construct new dorms.
But such deals are not without controversy. As previously reported by The News & Observer and other media outlets, a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a former NCCU finance administrator accused Akinleye and two Board of Governors members of trying to steer future development to the Preiss Company of Raleigh, which develops university housing. Officials denied the allegations. That company is not involved in the new dorms.
Under the partnership, NCCU will have two new residential buildings with 800 beds ready by fall 2020. The development will include space for a dining facility or convenience store. By fall of 2021, another building will be done, adding 470 beds. Two buildings will have suite-style configurations, and the third will have apartments. The vacant Chidley Hall at NCCU is being demolished to make way for the new development.
The $47 million student center is expected to be a major upgrade for the student experience at NCCU, school officials have said. It will be built on a parking area near the corner of Nelson and Fayetteville Streets. Construction will begin in the next month or two, and the center should open in 2021.
Partially funded by student fees endorsed by students, the center will include performance space, student and administrative offices, a store, game room and food court. It will replace the student union built in 1968, which had a maximum capacity for 2,000 students. The old building will be repurposed for other uses.
The $38 million business school, mostly funded through the 2016 Connect NC bond referendum, will include smart classrooms, a 200-seat auditorium and a financial trading room to give students a more vibrant learning experience, NCCU officials say. It will include a business incubator, a board room and an observation lab, doubling the overall space for the school.
“It’s going to create a lot of collaborative learning spaces where students will be able to work in groups and work more effectively on projects,” Anthony Nelson, business dean, said in an interview.
The trading room will allow students to interact with the stock market in real time, Nelson said.
Construction will begin in 2020, with opening expected by the fall of 2021, Nelson said. It will be built at the corner of Lawson Street and Alston Avenue, near a potential light rail stop if that project goes forward.
Matherson said this area would establish a “new front door” for NCCU.
“This is quite an opportunity to open up the other side of our campus,” she said.