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UNCG announces first two millennial campus projects: one building for the arts, and one for health sciences

GREENSBORO — UNCG’s millennial campus is starting to take shape.

The university announced Wednesday that it plans to put up two new buildings along Gate City Boulevard starting in 2020. The first building will focus on arts and culture. The second and much larger one will house health science and high-tech programs.

UNCG got permission in 2017 to establish a millennial campus, which allows for private-sector partnerships usually denied to North Carolina’s state universities. The two projects detailed Wednesday will be the first within UNCG’s millennial campus boundaries.

Chancellor Frank Gilliam said in an interview this week that the two projects will bring new academic and economic opportunities to the 20,000-student university and help connect UNCG and the community.

“This is the anti-ivory tower strategy,” Gilliam said. “There’s something to be learned by engaging with the community. And, conversely, we think the community can learn something by being engaged with the university.”

UNCG’s anticipated first building will be for the visual and performing arts. The university envisions a 10,000-square-foot building with flexible space that can be configured for live performances, an art gallery, meetings, and a wide range of other cultural and educational activities.

The site of this building will be a vacant lot UNCG owns on West Gate City Boulevard just east of South Tate Street. It’s two doors down from the planned Oden Brewing Co., a new brewery scheduled to open in October.

Construction on the new UNCG building is scheduled to start sometime in 2020.

“My hope is that we don’t just build another university building,” Gilliam said. “We want it to be space that is flexible that can be used by the campus writ large, and that it would be a space where there would be interaction with the community.

“This space,” he added, “is meant to signal something different.”

The second millennial campus building will be about 100,000 square feet and include classrooms, an auditorium and research space for UNCG’s health and human sciences faculty members. It also will be home for two tech programs: UNCG’s computer science department, and a new master’s degree program in informatics and analytics. The university’s information technology services office also might go in the new building.

Gilliam said there are ongoing negotiations for what he said is “private-sector involvement” in the new building, but he declined to be more specific or identify the firm. Construction work on this second building won’t start until 2021.

The second building will go atop a parking lot on West Gate City Boulevard at Neal Street, across from the Kaplan Center, UNCG’s student recreation center. As part of this project, UNCG said it will build a new surface parking lot to the south on university property that was the former site of a Salvation Army chapel and the local Boys & Girls Clubs of Greensboro. Construction of that new parking lot will start in spring 2020.

UNCG didn’t say Wednesday exactly when it anticipates opening either facility. Financing of the two new buildings remains unsettled.

Gilliam said the Capital Facilities Foundation, the university’s affiliated real estate arm, probably will put up the first building, which UNCG will then lease. UNCG has used similar arrangements in the past, most notably to construct the Spartan Village complex along West Gate City Boulevard. Gilliam said UNCG hasn’t yet decided how it will pay for the second planned building.

The two buildings will be the first projects inside UNCG’s millennial campus district, a designation that the UNC system’s Board of Governors approved for UNCG in 2017.

North Carolina legislators created this designation so the state’s public universities can work with the private sector in ways they normally cannot. Millennial campuses are exempt from the state’s Umstead Act, which prohibits universities and government agencies from competing with private business. The state’s millennial campus law lets UNC system schools lease space to private companies and allows private companies to build on university-owned land.

About half of the UNC system schools have millennial campuses. N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus was the first.

In Greensboro, UNCG and N.C. A&T share responsibility for Gateway Research Park on East Gate City Boulevard. That millennial campus is home to the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, which UNCG and A&T also share.

UNCG split its 73-acre millennial campus area into two districts that reflect two of its traditional strengths.

The visual and performing arts district runs along Tate Street and includes the Weatherspoon Art Museum, UNCG Auditorium, Music Building and several other performance spaces. The health and wellness district includes the Kaplan Center and Spartan Village as well as several science buildings and a new nursing building, now under construction, on the main part of campus to the north.

Gilliam referred to these first two building as UNCG’s “campfire strategy” — a way to create what he called hot spots that might spark other projects.

“I have a lot of ideas,” he said. “It’s just constrained by money. It’s why we sought millennial campus designation. We need partners.”

Chefs cook up special school meals at the Greensboro Children’s Museum

Community members could try out potential school meals Wednesday during the North Carolina PTA’s School Meal Challenge at the Greensboro Children’s Museum. Chefs offered up such fare as turkey sloppy Joes and teff porridge topped with bananas and agave. Whole grain teff is a tiny, protein-rich grain. The challenge was for chefs to create delectable and healthy school meals for less than $2. The state PTA created the competition to raise awareness about challenges to provide healthy, affordable school meals.

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Area transportation planners budget more money for improvements at Depot in downtown Greensboro

GREENSBORO — The price tag grew Wednesday by about $256,000 for renovations to the J. Douglas Galyon Depot that are expected to get underway next year.

The Greensboro-area Metropolitan Planning Organization agreed unanimously to boost the bottom line to $1.5 million to improve the transit hub’s waiting area, call center, ticketing offices, public restrooms and bus drivers’ break room.

“It’s giving it a face-lift really and improving the space for the operators who work there,” said Greensboro transit planner Gray Johnston.

City transportation planning manager Tyler Meyer said that city and state governments would split the cost increase, enabling the project to be put out for bids early next year.

The city won a federal grant of $960,000 three years ago for the renovations with hopes of getting them underway in 2017, city officials said at the time. The project was one of 61 nationwide that the Federal Transit Administration selected as part of an initiative to improve bus service.

It took longer to ready the project for bidding and more money was needed “based on current schedule and cost estimates,” planners said Wednesday.

The depot on East Washington Street opened in 1927 as the Southern Railway passenger terminal; Amtrak closed it in the late 1970s.

A coalition of government leaders, railroad enthusiasts and preservationists led a restoration effort that saw the historical structure reopen about 15 years ago as what is now a hub for trains, taxi services, and local, regional and national bus systems.

Composed of voting members from town, city, county and state governments, the MPO supervises transportation planning for Greensboro, surrounding unincorporated areas and smaller communities in northern Guilford County.

Among those present at Wednesday’s meeting were Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and three other members of the City Council including Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson and Council Members Marikay Abuzuaiter and Tammi Thurm. Abuzuaiter chairs the panel.

In other action, the MPO voted unanimously to request that state government provide an additional $35,835 to help GTA buy five electric buses.

Federal officials already have approved $2.9 million from a clean-air program to help the city buy the buses to replace diesel vehicles that cause much more pollution.

The panel also heard a plan to increase the number and quality of GTA bus shelters developed by Greensboro Transit Advisory Commission member Cheryl McQueary aimed at adding 30 to the system in three years.

McQueary said convenient, attractive shelters could help pay for themselves by boosting ridership. Board members praised the general concept but said that before any action was taken the plan should be reviewed by the full transit advisory commission — the group formerly known as the Greensboro Transit Authority.

In a highway update, the board heard from N.C. Department of Transportation official Mike Mills that the next leg of the Greensboro Urban Loop — from Battleground Avenue to Lawndale Drive — should open to traffic in December.

That would leave one more leg of the 44-mile-long loop to be completed, from Lawndale to U.S. 29, which the Division 7 engineer said should be finished in about two years.

However, Mills said, a major part of that last leg — from Lawndale to North Elm Street — could be open to motorists as soon as December 2020.

In other project updates, the MPO learned:

  • The roundabout being built at Cotswold Terrace and Old Battleground Road should be ready for motorists to use by week’s end. Transportation planners developed the project as a way to smooth traffic flow in and around the Battle Forest neighborhood.
  • A major sidewalk project covering more than 11 miles should be cleared for construction in northern Greensboro later this year. Transportation planner Craig McKinney told the MPO that the project includes major stretches of Pisgah Church and Lees Chapel roads, and Yanceyville Street.