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 facility 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 flexible 10,000-square-foot building that can be configured for live performances, an art gallery, meetings and a wide range of other cultural and educational events.
The site of this building will be a vacant lot UNCG owns on Gate City Boulevard just east of Tate Street. It's two doors down from the new 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. 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 on this second building won't start until 2021.
The second building will go atop a parking lot on 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 sometime next spring.
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 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 lawmakers 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 state's first millennial campus. In Greensboro, UNCG and N.C. A&T share responsibility for Gateway Research Park. 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, the Music Building and several other performance spaces. The health and wellness district includes the Kaplan Center and Spartan Village along Gate City Boulevard 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," Gilliam said. "It's just constrained by money. It's why we sought millennial campus designation. We need partners."