Law to Carolina North? Decision Expected Soon

It is appearing likely that the School of Law will move to Carolina North, the University’s multidisciplinary second campus on and near the site of Horace Williams Airport.

Jack Boger, the school’s dean, hopes to have a decision on whether to relocate or to renovate on the main campus by February, he said, so that the Board of Trustees can have a recommendation to consider at its next meeting.

“I’m very pleased at the opportunity, and at this point, I think it’s more likely than not that we accept this opportunity,” Boger said. “What we’d get is a 21st-century law building that would make sense in terms of our mission and goals and message.”

A new school at Carolina North would be one of the University’s top capital priorities for 2008, pushing full occupancy of the building to as early as 2012. Renovation of the school’s existing building, Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, would be unlikely before 2020, said Matt Marvin, director of communications for the school, because renovation and expansion would be lower on UNC’s list of building projects.

“I made it perfectly clear to the chancellor that we have not yet decided, but we’re interested,” Boger said.

In a presentation to the Board of Trustees on Jan. 23, Chancellor James Moeser said $30 million would be needed for planning of the first phase at Carolina North. In a Jan. 13 meeting with the Chapel Hill Town Council, the law school was presented as an example of a possible relocation of an academic building to the new campus.

The architectural firm SmithGroup was scheduled to present plans to faculty, students and staff on Jan. 30. The proposed building would be 200,000 square feet. The law school currently has 166,000 square feet. It is proposed to be paid for by state funds and would be part of the University’s 50-year development of 25 percent of the 1,000-acre tract.

A report by SmithGroup in May 2007 exposed serious challenges to a renovation of Van Hecke-Wettach Hall. That work would take five years to complete and would require the replacement of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Parts of the law library would be out of use for 18 months, and adjacent parking would not be available during construction.

“The complexities of renovating this building were really brought into focus by the SmithGroup’s report,” Marvin said. “The renovation would have to be done in phases, and during some of those phases you would have students literally walking through plastic hallways,” he added.

The SmithGroup estimated renovation and expansion costs at $91 million and the cost of a completely new building at $94 million.

Boger said he is near the end of a process to sound out the feelings of faculty and staff. Concerns have been expressed about the distance and isolation from the main campus, he said.

“I’ve heard, obviously, some opposition — a handful of alumni who are troubled,” Boger said.

The law school was built in the 1960s and received a major addition in 1999. But it lacks space. The school has moved some of its programs off campus, including the alumni advancement team of the Office for Advancement, the UNC Center for Civil Rights and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, which moved to Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro. In addition, the classroom designs are not up-to-date with current educational models, which encourage small class sizes and newer technology.

The school is aggressively trying to increase faculty numbers to address a retiring baby boomer generation as well as to keep pace with an educational trend to keep class sizes and the faculty-to-student ratio low. U.S. News & World Report ranked the school’s faculty-to-student ratio as 99th out of 100, school officials calculated, and they want to address that concern.

The school also has had structural problems: This past summer, a facade cracked under the summer heat, and the school had to be evacuated. The bricks on the facade are now fixed and straightened, Marvin said.

On the school’s wish list is a new auditorium to host symposiums for visiting scholars and lecturers. Currently the building does not have space for these events and uses an offsite location.

“The other thing to keep in mind is that we’re out of space now,” Marvin said. “We’re in great need now.”

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