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State budget funds all WCU requests

University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans. University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans.

Western Carolina University leaders are celebrating passage of a state budget bill that funds every item on the university’s legislative agenda, including raises for faculty and staff and $35.5 million to renovate Moore Building, the oldest building on WCU’s campus. 

“Western Carolina University is well served and very grateful for this budget, which allows us to address critical infrastructure needs and to fairly compensate our faculty and staff who have done tremendous work throughout the enormously challenging circumstances of the past 18 months,” said Chancellor Kelli Brown. 

In a July campus tour with University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans, university leaders dubbed Moore Building “the new steam plant,” meaning that its needs represented a large but vital budget ask and they expected to be making noise about that request until the funding finally came through. In the case of the steam plant, the university had to lobby for years before the legislature approved a budget in 2018 funding the first half  of the $33 million replacement effort. That project is now underway, with the new plant expected to open next November. 

Meanwhile, the new state budget  includes enough funding to cover the total estimated cost of renovating Moore, first built in 1924. It originally served as a women’s dormitory, then as a campus dining hall, and it most recently housed the university’s health and human sciences program. It’s been vacant since that program moved to the new Health and Human Sciences Building on Little Savannah Road in 2012. After the renovation, Moore will host classrooms, offices and academic programs including the Criminal Justice Department and the English Department, said Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Mike Byers. The $35.5 million estimate includes “contingencies for moderate inflation and unexpected circumstances,” he said. 

There is not yet a definitive schedule for the project, but typically undertakings of that scale require a year to design and 18-24 months to construct, which would put the opening for the renovated Moore Building in the second half of 2024. 

Moore Building is the largest WCU infrastructure project funded in the budget, but not the only one. The budget includes $12 million for projects across campus, including HVAC upgrades and window replacements in Killian Building, roof replacements at the Reid, Facilities Management and H.F. Robinson buildings, campus-wide upgrades to the fire alarm system and egress lighting, structural repairs to the Highlands Biological Station and more. It also provides $3 million in recurring funding to support operations and maintenance at the recently completed Apodaca Science Building

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Additionally, the new budget funds university needs related to staffing and revenue. 

“We are thankful for the value this budget places on the university,” said Byers. “North Carolina has a history of investing in higher education, and this budget takes great strides in fully funding enrollment growth and taking a big bite out of our backlog of maintenance needs.”

All university employees will receive a 5% raise spread across the two-year time span the budget addresses, a much-needed boost that university leaders hope will assist with recruiting and retaining qualified people — an increasingly difficult task  as salaries have stagnated amid a rising cost of living. 

An initial 2.5% raise will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, with an additional 2.5% on July 1. Faculty and staff will also receive back pay for these raises covering the six months from July 1 to Dec. 31, with all permanent, full-time employees receiving additional bonuses as well. Faculty and staff making $75,000 or less will receive $1,500, and those making more than $75,000 will get $1,000. 

On the revenue side, the budget includes two provisions vital to WCU’s financial future. The UNC System will receive $70 million in recurring funding to support enrollment growth, with WCU’s portion of that pot determined based on a funding formula to be created as an addition to the university’s base budget. 

The budget also includes full, recurring funding for the N.C. Promise Tuition Program, which allows North Carolina residents to enroll in undergraduate programs at participating universities for just $500 in tuition per semester — plus any applicable fees. Non-residents pay $2,500 per semester under the program. 

N.C. Promise is funded at $66 million for the 2021-2022 fiscal year and $82.5 million for fiscal year 2022-23 — up from $51 million in the 2018 budget — with funds going to WCU, Elizabeth City State University and UNC Pembroke. The higher figure in the 2022-23 fiscal year is mainly due to the budget bill adding Fayetteville State University to the program, starting in the next fiscal year.  

The funding will allow university leaders to breathe a sigh of relief after holding it for years since the program launched in 2018 — the same year that the state legislature last passed a full budget. As the N.C. Promise program matured, so did its funding requirements. The new budget provides recurring funding to meet those needs  for the future. 

The budget is “a remarkable start on a new era in which we will lift up our faculty and staff, broaden our educational reach, revamp our campus facilities and make education more affordable to more North Carolinians,” said Hans. “All our budget priorities — and more — were met with this historic legislation.” 

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