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WCU celebrates new Apodaca Science Building

Former N.C. State Senator Tom Apodaca and Western Carolina University Chancellor Kelli R. Brown cut a ribbon as they officially open the new Apodaca Science Building at WCU on Friday.   Former N.C. State Senator Tom Apodaca and Western Carolina University Chancellor Kelli R. Brown cut a ribbon as they officially open the new Apodaca Science Building at WCU on Friday.

Former N.C. State Senator Tom Apodaca avoided science “like the plague” as a student at Western Carolina University in the late 1970s. So, it’s taking him a little time to fully grasp the idea that a new science building on the campus now carries his name.

“Surreal,” he responded Friday when asked how it felt to see his name on the $110.5 million state-of-the-art facility. “It’s quite an honor.”
Apodaca’s family, friends, colleagues in the senate, representatives from WCU and the University of North Carolina system joined him and about 200 guests on Friday for the grand opening of the new Apodaca Science Building at WCU.
The facility replaces the university’s 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building and is the largest capital project in the $2 billion voter-approved Connect NC bond for infrastructure improvements.
The WCU Board of Trustees voted in 2016 to name the building after Apodaca to recognize his support for WCU and the region. Apodaca is a 1980 graduate of WCU with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a former board of trustees’ member. He served in the state legislature as a senator from Hendersonville from 2002 to 2016.
In addition to Apodaca, speakers at Friday’s ceremony included WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown, WCU Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Kinner, WCU Board of Trustees Chairman Bob Roberts, University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans and Senator Phil Berger, the president pro tem of the N.C. Senate.
All praised Apodaca’s work over the years to improve higher education in Western North Carolina and at WCU. Most also included some good-natured jokes at Apodaca’s expense.
Brown said WCU struggled to educate students in the old science building because it did not offer the type of technology needed for a modern science education.
“Simply put we were in desperate straits,” she said.
Brown thanked Apodaca, other members of the legislature and N.C. voters for funding that allowed for the new science building. “It’s been a long time coming,” she said.
Roberts recounted Apodaca’s work supporting WCU and Western North Carolina in the senate including his advocacy for the N.C. Promise program at WCU that allows students to attend the university at an affordable rate. The program means many students at the school avoid going into overwhelming debt.
“There wasn’t much left to do other than name a building after you,” he said.
Hans and Berger both drew laughs when they recounted Apodaca’s lack of interest in science as a student at the university.
Hans defined irony as the words “Apodaca and science.”
Berger said everyone wanted a building at WCU named in honor of Apodaca but no one thought it would be a science building.
While meeting with reporters after the ceremony, WCU student and journalism intern Kaylee Cook told Apodaca the N.C. Promise program allowed her to attend the university. Without it, she said she would have been forced to either put herself or her parents into extreme debt.
The Apodaca Science Building is a multi-level, 182,989 square foot facility. It features five stories of laboratory, classroom, assembly space, office space, collaborative space and a lecture hall that seats 150 people.
It also includes a rooftop plaza with stunning views of the mountains around the university where students have the chance to relax, take part in astronomy observations or stroll through a garden space. The rooftop also includes a greenhouse.
The science building is home to the university’s Department of Biology, Department of Chemistry and Physics and the interdisciplinary program in Forensic Science.
Apodaca summed it up in two words.
“It’s amazing,” he said.