Growing student body prompts relocation of health center

By Max Miller – Staff Writer – nmiller@unca.edu

UNC Asheville’s student Health and Counseling Center will expand and move to property at 118 Weaver Blvd., which the university purchased this summer.

Freshman Tara Carr reads in front of Weizenblatt Hall, the current location of the Health and Counseling Center. Photo by Heidi Harrell - Editor-in-Chief
Freshman Tara Carr reads in front of Weizenblatt Hall, the current location of the Health and Counseling Center. Photo by Heidi Harrell – Editor-in-Chief

Following some minor construction, the center plans to move to the new building as early as the upcoming spring semester. The building was formerly owned by the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). The university has been negotiating the purchase of the property and the building residing on it for about two years, according to John Pierce, UNCA’s Vice Chancellor for Finance & Operations. The purchase went through in July for $3.95 million.

The MAHEC building will replace Weizenblatt Hall as the location of UNCA’s student health center, because it is better equipped to handle the university’s growing student population.

“The Weizenblatt Hall was built back in the early ‘70s, and at the time, we had like 1000 students. We’ve just outgrown that facility,” Pierce said. “There will be a lot more space on the first floor of the MAHEC building. This building was already being used by a health clinic, and so there’s just a lot of infrastructure that’s already in place.”

The extra space and existing resources will allow the Health and Counseling Center to expand staff and offer more types of services, said Jay Cutspec, the center’s director.

“We will probably be able to do some physical therapy, which right now we send students off campus for,” Cutspec said. “We’ll also be able to do some IV treatment. So, right now, if you came in and were dehydrated, we really don’t have a place for you to lie down for an extended period of time. We’ll also be able to do more procedures, like wart and mole removal, for example.”

The center will implement a new integrative care model that combines mental health and physical health, because there will be no separation of floors between the health division and the counseling division.

The increase in space will also mean more staff can be hired and the center may be able to offer evening hours, a request the center has experimented with in the past, but which may be more successful following these changes.

After the transition, Weizenblatt Hall will likely be used as a swing space for other offices and departments in the process of finding permanent homes.

The MAHEC building’s second floor will house UNCA’s University Advancement division currently located on the third floor of Owen Hall.

The university has been planning the move and expansion for two years, but was unable to finalize the purchase until this summer when MAHEC vacated the property.

“What happened was MAHEC was constructing a new building over on their campus on Biltmore Avenue,” Pierce said. “So what we had to do was to wait for that construction to be completed so MAHEC could move out of the existing building over to that new building.”

The purchase tops the list of ongoing property acquisitions made by the university over the past several years in response to the steady increase in student population. The university has been working towards amassing properties contiguous to the main campus.

This includes the purchase of the property at the corner of W.T. Weaver Boulevard and Merrimon Avenue on which Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bill Haggard’s house sits as well as the large tract of currently undeveloped property at 525 Broadway St.

“On the 525 Broadway property, we are still working through our campus master-planning process,” Pierce said. “That is the property where our foundation is going to be constructing a greenway that connects the greenway in front of the campus, the Glenn’s Creek Greenway, with the Reed Creek Greenway that goes toward downtown.”

Since these newer properties are located off the main campus, shuttle transportation is planned to allow resident students to access them. Cutspec says the advantages of the new center outweigh any problems stemming from its comparative distance from campus.

“I think that we’re a little bit spoiled here on this campus because everything is so close. I think on most campuses, walking between wherever and down there would not be an issue,” Cutspec said. “Another big advantage is we’ll have adequate parking there. When you look at commuter students, they’ll be able to just park and go in, so in some ways, it may be more convenient for some students.”

In addition to these properties, the state allocated UNCA $2 million in the budget to make further purchases. University officials have yet to reveal what properties they are planning to acquire with this money.

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