RALEIGH — By many measures, N.C. State University's massive public-private Centennial Campus is a success, with more than 2 million square feet of classrooms, labs and corporate offices, dozens of corporate and government tenants and more on the way.
But more than 26 years after it was started, the vibe is still more sterile, 9-to-5 business park than vibrant college campus. Two construction projects now in the pipeline, though, will change that for good.
The hyper-modern James B. Hunt Jr. Library is now clad in about half of its reflective metal-and-glass skin, and workers are beginning to make strides on the interior. It will feature spaces for digitally enhanced collaborative study and research, and robot-infested "black box" stacks where books are automatically pulled and shelved.
Meanwhile, a design team is fine-tuning plans for a 1,150-bed, six-building student housing complex, complete with a 20,000-square-foot dining center and a workout facility. The university's trustees recently approved the site plan for the dorm complex, and construction bidding is scheduled for late fall.
It can't come too soon for students with classes on Centennial, who must grab little bits of tranquil campus where they can find them.
Travis Eason of Raleigh, a sophomore in biomedical engineering, had plopped down one morning this week after an exam to read his Bible in a semicircle of grass and young trees beside engineering classroom buildings that one day will help frame a long quad called The Oval. At the other end, to the south, will be the library, with the dorms in between.
Eason raved about the Centennial engineering buildings, where he has some classes, and said he just needs a few amenities to feel at home.
"Right now, it feels like this campus is just starting to come together, but they're implementing all these things that will be great," he said. "As soon as they finish the library and the food court, I'm pretty sure I'll be spending the majority of my time on Centennial."
The unusual campus, taking shape on a rolling, 1,120-acre tract just south of the main campus, is part research park and part university. The goal is to bring government and private industry together with students and faculty for joint research projects.
As governor, Jim Hunt led the initiative to give NCSU state land for the project. After getting a sense of the growing importance of high technology while he was on trade missions to Europe and Japan in the 1980s, Hunt said, he came to believe the state needed to take bold steps to avoid being left behind in fields such as microelectronics and biotechnology.
Michael Harwood, the associate vice chancellor in charge of the Centennial Campus Development Office, said the housing in particular will change the feel.
"That will bring a real 24/7 energy on campus because students will be there around the clock and be involved in all kinds of activities, not just attending class there, then leaving," Harwood said. "Both projects, taken together, will really bring a kind of completion, give the campus a heart and stitch some disparate parts into a whole."
Until the past few weeks, when a temporary modular dining facility opened, the thousands of students and workers on the campus had to pack their lunches or go off-campus to eat, so the permanent dining options will be a critical addition, Harwood said.
The library comes first, with completion expected late next year. Housing will follow in 2014.
Among other projects under construction on Centennial is a new residence for the chancellor, which is expected to serve as a hub for fundraising events. Also, university trustees have approved site plans for a $5 million clubhouse for the Arnold Palmer golf course, and they got their initial look at the clubhouse design.
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