NC State gives governor a gleaming legacy in glass

April 5, 2013 

The main building of the new James B. Hunt Jr. Library on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus looks as if it could take off and fly. Sleek, glassy and classy, it houses the absolute latest in technology, with 3-D labs and projection rooms and creative spaces where the students are creating things only students could understand or explain.

There are even books, though much space is set aside, as it is in university libraries these days, to digital memory.

And within the library is the Institute for Emerging Issues, the heartbeat of what the man for whom the building is named is doing these days. The institute’s space is devoted to the current challenges facing North Carolina, all parts of North Carolina, and it’s a learning center as well for local officials. There are a multitude of film displays, touch-screen graphics, recordings of Hunt talking about the tough issues coming up in the state. His state.

At the center of things, in an office a fraction the size of the State Capitol digs he enjoyed in four terms as governor or the ones in his separate, out-of-office stints with two big law firms, Jim Hunt these days puts his visitors in red chairs and speaks with stentorian intensity about NCSU, his alma mater, and his state. Always, “North Carolina” rolls off his tongue in that familiar baritone. He will be 76 next month, but his vigor and curiosity can wear out a staff of people young enough to be his children.

He’s proud of the library, and justifiably so. It is a fitting tribute in so many ways.

The Centennial Campus, at the time a revolutionary concept of public-private partnerships in research and commerce, came about as a result of Hunt’s arrangement to donate over 300 acres of state property that was part of the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus to N.C. State. The move was bold and to some degree controversial, but by 1984, finishing his second of what would be four terms as governor, Hunt had traveled the world looking for innovative ideas.

The library is appropriate as well because of its educational mission, education at all levels having been a priority in each of Hunt’s 16 years as governor.

And then there is the public mission, the reaching out to towns and cities around the state, whose representatives can come in and have an intense tutorial in the institute to help them deal with their communities’ problems.

In other words, it is as if the library reflects the individual for whom it is named: energetic, innovative, bold. It will stand for some generations, and watching the former governor navigate it, it seems he might as well.

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