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Appalachian State University in North Carolina to Begin Building Innovation District This Summer

Thu June 29, 2023 - Southeast Edition #15
Appalachian Today

A conceptual rendering of what the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research at App State might look like once complete. The facility is part of the first phase of development for App State’s Innovation District. Note, this image does not reflect the conservatory’s finalized design. (Lord Aeck Sargent graphic)
A conceptual rendering of what the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research at App State might look like once complete. The facility is part of the first phase of development for App State’s Innovation District. Note, this image does not reflect the conservatory’s finalized design. (Lord Aeck Sargent graphic)

This summer, the first academic building for Appalachian State University's Innovation District will begin to take shape, with construction slated to begin in July.

The Boone, N.C., school's Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research will be the first net-zero energy building in ASU's planned Innovation District.

According to university Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Management Nick Katers, the approximately 50,000-sq.-ft. building also will be among the nation's first academic research facilities built to the rigorous sustainability standards of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), meaning the structure must generate more energy than it uses and be made of materials that are healthy for the environment, with all water captured and treated on site.

One of three components in the first phase of development for the Innovation District, the conservatory will bring together expertise across disciplines and create collaborations on campus, as well as encourage K–12 partnerships, noted Appalachian Today, an online ASU news site.

The new biodiversity facility also will build on existing opportunities available through the Department of Biology's teaching and research facilities at the university. Housing for ASU faculty and staff, along with a zero-carbon energy system to power the district's facilities, also is planned for phase one.

Paired with the adjacent App State Nature Preserve, the conservatory will advance knowledge surrounding the natural and cultural history of the Southern Appalachian region, allowing the ASU community and visitors to understand the natural history and economic importance of the region's biodiversity, and gain a heightened appreciation of the research and creative endeavors being conducted at the school, nestled 3,333 ft. above sea level within the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

In fact, ASU's elevation is the highest of any university in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

"As the Innovation District develops, it will provide a thriving space where students, faculty, and staff work together with industry partners in specialized areas that capitalize on App State's strengths and regional identity," said ASU Chancellor Sheri Everts. "Collaborations across colleges and disciplines will prepare students for career progression in a dynamic work environment.

"The district, through its Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research and other buildings, will serve as a vital link between the campus and the regional community through education, economic development, research, and outreach," she added.

New Project One of Several Being Built This Summer

As Katers shared during his presentation to the university's Board of Trustees back in March, the new building will have up to four different climate zones in its conservatory section, in addition to a full suite of biology laboratories, classrooms and large event spaces, with adjacent public and research gardens designed to highlight the biodiversity of the Blue Ridge's regional flora.

He told the board that the building's classrooms will have dividers allowing for space modifications that meet the needs of both students and faculty, and the event spaces will feature garage-style glass doors that, when opened, will extend those spaces into the nearby gardens — bringing the outside in and connecting attendees with nature.

Appalachian State's targeted opening date for the conservatory is 2025, in time for that year's fall semester.

The biodiversity conservatory project is one of several major campus construction efforts set to begin at ASU's Boone campus this summer, including renovations to Edwin Duncan Hall and Wey Hall, and the construction of a new parking deck next to the Holmes Convocation Center.

$61.5M Investment in Innovation

Appalachian State selected architecture firm Lord Aeck Sargent, with an office in Chapel Hill, N.C., to serve as the project's designer; Muter Construction in Zebulon, and Boone's Greene Construction will serve as joint venture partners in building the conservatory.

The North Carolina General Assembly allocated $54 million in non-recurring funds for ASU to begin work on the Innovation District project. Earlier this year, the university's Board of Trustees authorized an additional $7.5 million in funding to allow room for any potential inflationary adjustments, Katers said.

The first development phase of ASU's Innovation District, located at the top of Bodenheimer Drive in Boone, also will include:

  • More than 150 multifamily, multistory residential units, which will help meet App State employees' needs amid housing scarcity and cost inflation in the area. Affordable options will be available for the planned units, with layouts consisting of one-, two-, and three-bedroom configurations.
  • A zero-carbon district energy system that will begin to transition the Boone campus away from steam power. This means the buildings in the Innovation District will be highly energy efficient and powered by carbon-free, renewable energy sources, which will not only lower the environmental impact of the buildings but also help make them more financially viable.

Appalachian Today noted that the district's faculty and staff housing and zero-carbon energy system — scheduled for completion in 2025 — will be supported through public-private partnerships that do not rely upon state funds or any capital from the university.

Later development phases for the Innovation District will include more academic and partnership spaces. Facilities under discussion include:

  • Spaces for research, teaching and demonstration
  • Workspaces for multidisciplinary projects
  • Renewable energy labs
  • Conference rooms
  • Exhibition and studio spaces
  • Housing
ASU Has Grown Into Renowned University

Appalachian State University is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. It enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio, and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.

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