WCU Central Plaza opens in time for arrival of students for fall semester

A landscaped plaza featuring brick walkways, grassy lawns, a single-plume fountain and a recently constructed series of steps and platforms linking the center of Western Carolina University’s campus to Centennial Drive is fully open, just in time for the 9,600 students expected to arrive this fall.

The plaza’s tiered steps flanked by planters were part of the last phase of a comprehensive initiative to create a safe, pedestrian-friendly hub at the center of campus. The initiative entailed relocating a road that used to run through the center of campus, the 2004 renovation of A.K. Hinds University Center and construction of new state-of-the-art facilities, including a recreation center opened in 2008, dining hall and residence hall opened in 2009, and a second residence hall opened in 2010.

“The decision to redo the heart of campus has been one of the most significant decisions we have made to improve the quality of life for our students,” said Keith Corzine, director of residential living. “The central plaza and terraced area gives a true polish to the core of campus, and we are excited to have another venue to host outdoor concerts and events. We can’t wait to share the new space with students this fall.”

Freshman Move-In Day is set for Friday, Aug. 19, and more than 1,000 of approximately 1,500 first-year students are expected to check-in between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“We look forward to the arrival of students on campus and are making every effort to make sure move-in day – one of the busiest traffic days of the year on campus – is as efficient, easy and safe as possible,” said Ernie Hudson, chief of WCU police, who expects an influx of 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles with the heaviest traffic between 10:30 a.m. and noon.

A move-in day traffic map for fall 2011, which is posted on the WCU parking services website at www.wcu.edu/9005.asp, details how traffic will be routed onto and around campus during move-in. Cars will be directed to one of three different campus entrances based on the residence hall into which the student is moving.  University Way, the road between the H.F. Robinson Administration Building and the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, will become one-way in order to facilitate two lanes of incoming traffic to residence halls near the center of campus, where most first-year students reside.  With Harrill Residence Hall offline to undergo a $15.5 million renovation this year, a number of first-year students also will reside in Buchanan Residence Hall and temporarily in Madison Residence Hall.

Signage on Highway 107 and throughout campus will help drivers navigate on move-in day, and updates and information will be shared live on the university’s radio station, WWCU-FM Power 90.5. In addition, the Cat-Tran campus shuttle will have expanded service on move-in day to and from outlying parking lots on campus.

“Our move-in day traffic patterns are designed to keep Highway 107 clear, as much as possible, and to maintain the ability for fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles to be able to access all parts of our campus in the event of an emergency,” said Hudson. “It’s really important for faculty, staff, students and visitors to follow these patterns to ensure that everyone can move in as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Freshmen will gather at Ramsey Regional Activity Center at 5:30 p.m. for convocation, the official welcome event for the Class of 2015. Speakers include Chancellor David O. Belcher, Interim Provost Beth Tyson Lofquist and T.J. Eaves, president of the Student Government Association. The event is free and open to the public.

During the following week, an array of activities are planned as part of WCU’s Week of Welcome, which features the annual Valley Ballyhoo outdoor festival on the lawn of A.K. Hinds University Center from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, and activities such as tubing, outdoor movies, cookouts, games and scavenger hunts – a complete look at the events can be found Page 6 of this section. Classes begin Monday, Aug. 22.

“We hope these activities help students get to know each other and get involved and engaged with the entire WCU community,” said Corzine.