NCSU shaves size, cost of plan for new house

School plans to build chancellor's home on Centennial Campus, use it as a fundraising tool.

Staff WriterFebruary 6, 2010 

— N.C. State University has retooled its long-stalled plan to build a new lakefront chancellor's residence at Centennial Campus, slashing the size of the home by nearly a third and trimming the costs by about 40 percent. The university now hopes to break ground within weeks.

The NCSU board of trustees is expected to vote Feb. 19 on whether to build the 8,500-square-foot modernist house. It would be paid for with about $3 million in private funding, including services and materials donated by university supporters, said Jim Woodward, the interim chancellor.

In recent years, such homes have become quasi-public buildings used as fundraising tools for universities and to create the right impression for important campus visitors. Much of the space will be arranged for formal events, with just a third of the house dedicated to the living area for the chancellor's family.

"These homes are to benefit the university, not the chancellor, so when you're designing them, you have to be mindful that you're building a house that carries out this primary mission," Woodward said. "We're about three years away from starting a major capital campaign, and this house will be critical to its success."

Woodward is something of an expert in the design and use of such homes. He was involved in the planning and construction of two of them at UNC Charlotte - one early in his career and another completed after he retired. He and his wife hosted more than 600 events in the first of the two.

So when Woodward arrived in Raleigh in June for a temporary stint while NCSU hunted for a new leader, he immediately concluded that the current chancellor's home on Hillsborough Street, built in 1928, was unsuitable for large gatherings. It can feel cramped with even a couple dozen people, he said, and has parking for perhaps 20 vehicles at most.

University trustees had decided in 2004 that it made more sense to build a new home on the sprawling Centennial Campus than to spend $2 million renovating the old one.

That plan, though, ground to a halt after the design swelled to 12,300 square feet at a cost of more than $5 million. As the economy soured, members of the committee that was formed to plan and raise money began to worry that the project had become too big.

The committee had already secured commitments worth more than $3 million, and Woodward jump-started an effort to rethink the design, trim costs and get the project moving again. The latest design was influenced by the layout of the public areas in the similar-sized chancellor's home at UNC Charlotte. The new plan brings a traditional Southern inflection to the modern look required to fit in at the technology-focused research campus.

Woodward said the donations and pledges include several large gifts. He declined to name the donors, though two of the state's wealthiest people and biggest NCSU supporters are on the project steering committee: Ann Goodnight, the wife of SAS Institute co-founder Jim Goodnight; and Wendell Murphy, who made a fortune in pork production.

Best to build now

Ann Goodnight, a former NCSU trustee and now a member of the UNC system's board of governors, is so passionate about the project that after hearing Woodward talk about how well the UNC Charlotte house worked, she went to see it last summer. She said Wednesday that she was impressed with the arrangement of public rooms that encouraged mingling.

Woodward expects to leave the university when the new chancellor, William "Randy" Woodson, arrives, probably in April. One reason Woodward wanted to get the house started, he said, was to keep Woodson from getting off on the wrong foot with a needless public relations problem.

The house is an important tool that will pay for itself many times over, Woodward said, and no one could argue that an interim chancellor who would never get to live in the house was trying to give himself an unneeded luxury.

The new design would be able to handle more than 200 people for a stand-up function and perhaps 80 for dinner. It would have access to the parking lot at the nearby alumni center, Woodward said.

The house also is expected to serve as a showcase for green construction technology, said Kevin MacNaughton, the university's associate vice chancellor for facilities. It would take about a year and a half to finish, and while it's under construction, classes from the College of Design and College of Natural Resources will come out to observe things like the geothermal heating and cooling system, the roof-mounted windmill and a rainwater collection system for irrigation.

'House for the people'

Marvin Malecha, dean of the College of Design and past president of the American Institute of Architects, is a consulting architect on the project and said his role was that of chief designer.

"I understood this was a house for the people, and it needs to be humble, but also be dignified in a way that's befitting the campus," Malecha said. "We don't even like to call it the chancellor's residence because it's really the university's residence."

Because of the symbolic nature of the house, he said, and the university's role as a land-grant institution, NCSU wants to make it kind of a mini-stimulus package for North Carolina, using locally produced materials where possible. Those, he said, would help give the house a North Carolina feel.

The university will preserve the old house, which is near the Belltower, but it doesn't have a plan for how to use it yet, Woodward said.

jay.price@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4526

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