Remarks from the March 25, 2022, Innovation District groundbreaking ceremony

Friday, March 25, 2022

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Thank you so much for being here!

Welcome to the groundbreaking for the Innovation District! I'd like to extend a very special welcome to the members of the General Assembly who made it possible for us to break ground on the long-envisioned project:

  • Senator Deanna Ballard;
  • Senator Ralph Hise;
  • Representative Kelly Hastings;
  • Representative Jason Saine; and
  • Representative Ray Pickett.

Thank you all so much.

I would also like to thank Governor Philip Byers, representing the UNC Board of Governors here today.

I’d also like to introduce and thank App State’s Board of Trustees. They have been ardent supporters of this endeavor, and I would like to thank them individually:

  • Our Board Chair, Kim Shepherd;
  • Vice Chair Mark Ricks;
  • Secretary Tommy Sofield;
  • Trustee John Blackburn;
  • Trustee James Reaves;
  • Trustee Scott Lampe;
  • Trustee Jeff Chesson; and
  • Trustee Jimmy Barnes.

Thank you for your support and for being here today. Representing our Foundation Board — Chair Jeannine Underdown Collins, and also representing the Foundation Board, Bo Henderson.

I would also like to recognize:

  • Boone Mayor Tim Futrelle;
  • Mayor Pro Tem Edie Tugman; and
  • Town Council Member Becca Nenow.

Also, from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners:

  • Chair, and our Associate Athletics Director John Welch, 
  • Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque, and
  • Blowing Rock Town Councilwoman Melissa Pickett.

Thank you for being here.

I would also like to acknowledge our incoming Student Government Association President, Quson Brown.

I want to thank you all for being here today.

We are here today because the best budget in App State’s history is providing funding this fiscal year to begin work on App State’s Innovation District. This is a very long-held goal made possible with a biennial budget allocation of $54 million dollars in the current fiscal year.

We take stewardship of state resources very seriously here at App State. We have a well-earned reputation for being shovel-ready when funding for buildings is allocated, and for completing them on time and on budget!

App State’s future Innovation District is an ambitious enterprise that will have a lasting and powerful impact on the region, broadening economic development opportunities for rural areas in Northwestern North Carolina. The Innovation District will bring together expertise across disciplines and facilitate collaborations on campus and with the communities across the region.

This exciting, long-term project has been included in the university’s master planning since 2016, a year after the Board of Governors designated this property with “millennial campus” status, which provides greater flexibility for planning and utilization of the property. Numerous faculty and staff have worked to develop a vision for this property, with input from students and alumni.

The first academic building will be the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research. This facility will serve as a vital link between the campus and the regional community through education, research and outreach.

It is important to note, this is the first building — and the first academic building — of the District. You can see some of the development concepts here today. The multi-phased development concepts we are reviewing are forward-thinking and comprehensive. Going beyond what is our standard — which is to build LEED-certified buildings — we are reviewing concepts for a Zero-Carbon District. This means the buildings in the Innovation District will be highly energy efficient, and powered by carbon-free, renewable energy sources. This will not only lower the environmental impact of the buildings, but will also help make them more financially viable.

We also asked the design firms submitting proposals to include faculty and staff housing into the Innovation District Master Plan, as one way to help address housing shortages that affect our ability to recruit and retain talented faculty and staff.

Other academic facilities that are also in discussion are:

  • Spaces for research, teaching and demonstration;
  • Workspace for multidisciplinary projects;
  • Renewable energy labs;
  • Conference rooms; and
  • Expanded exhibition and studio spaces.

App State is the premier public undergraduate institution in the state, founded to increase access to education for those in the “lost provinces.” Today, we are a thriving university of nearly 21,000 students that remains true to our mission as a rural-serving institution.

We look forward to continuing the work we have done with many of you here today, as well as with leaders from education, business and community development, to ensure that this District extends the university’s mission of teaching, research and service to the region and the state. The potential is limitless!

Thank you, again, so much for being here this afternoon, to celebrate this new beginning. Let’s break ground!