Chancellor John Bardo announced a proposal for a new Biotechnology Research Center on Wednesday, November 8, at the Public Policy Institute conference.
The Center, which WCU, Asheville-Buncombe Technological Community College, and UNC-Asheville will co-sponsor, will be located in the former BASF plant in Enka.
The three institutions will be joined in partnership for the center with PE Corporation, a biotechnology company specializing in machinery for the biotech industry. PE Corporation, formerly known as Perkins-Elmer, is the parent company of Celera Genomics, which has made strides to map the human genome.
Tony White, a WCU alumnus and chief executive officer of PE Corporation, has agreed to donate biotechnology equipment to the center, according to Dr. Richard Collings, vice-chancellor for academic affairs.
Collings also said that WCU is asking the state legislature for $1.8 million dollars for work on the center, which will fill the three buildings and 220,000 square feet of the long-vacant plant, donated to A-B Tech only a month ago by the BASF Corporation.
The main objective of the center, said Collings, is to educate students at the three schools on how to operate and repair biotechnology equipment.
Plans for the center began this summer with talk among the leaders of the three institutions and others in the community. Collings said that the schools are trying to get a mix of public and private funding for the center and asking the medical community in Asheville to get involved as well.
The North Carolina legislature will not make known a decision about funding for the center until next summer, but the center stands to gain all, some, or none of the funds that WCU asked for, according to Collings. “If we get the funding, we’ll be able to operate at whatever level of funding comes in,” said Collings. “I’m fairly confident that something will come about. What I’m not sure is to what extent it will be.”
Many educational opportunities for graduate students, especially in the fields of Health Care and Biology, will be expanded through the center.
Fewer undergraduate programs will be offered, said Collings, because UNC-A, being the Liberal Arts institution for the state, offers mostly undergraduate programs and the schools in the partnership do not want to duplicate what is already being offered in Asheville.
Work on the center will not begin until after next summer, but those involved in the planning will be working to be ready when funds are allocated for the center. “[The center] is something that we’re committed to developing,” said Collings.