Lees-McRae College to renovate Historic Commons with $30 million investment from USDA

Lees-McRae President Lee King and USDA North Carolina Rural Development State Director Reginald Speight unveiled today the college’s plans to update the Historic Commons buildings.  

The announcement was made at an event held on the Lees-McRae campus on Friday, April 1. In addition to representatives from Lees-McRae and the USDA, other guests in attendance were North Carolina State Senator Warren Daniels, representatives from the offices of senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly, Avery County Board of Commissioners Chair Martha Hicks, Banner Elk Town Manager Rick Owen, and members of the Banner Elk town council.     

King, Speight, and Lyerly shared remarks, along with Lees-McRae Board of Trustees Chairman Parker Grubbs ’95 and USDA Area Specialist Josh Carswell.  

“This is probably the single most exciting time in Lees-McRae history,” King said. “Not only are we bringing these historic structures back to life, we are making them a modern environment for twenty-first century living and learning for our student body.” 

The $30 million Community Facilities Direct Loan represents one of the largest government investments in a development project in Western North Carolina. The funds will be used for extensive upgrades to the North Carolina Building and the Tennessee and Virginia residence halls.  

“I appreciate the fact that we have the opportunity to invest in the future of the young adults who are going to matriculate on this campus,” Speight said. “I want to thank Lees-McRae College for allowing USDA to partner with you in your mission in the mountains, of the mountains, and for the mountains.” 

The three buildings of the Historic Commons were constructed in the 1920s under the direction of Rev. Edgar Tufts and his son Edgar H. Tufts. Rev. Tufts launched a campaign called “Rocks by the Ton” to bring in stone from the three states that lent their names to the buildings. The college has long been committed to maintaining the historic character of the buildings while performing regular renovations to meet modern standards.  

Lees-McRae plans to use the USDA loan to enlarge the individual residence spaces in Tennessee Hall and Virginia Hall and create living learning communities for first-year students. North Carolina Building, which currently houses classrooms and offices, will become the social hub of the campus and the base for the First Year Experience program, with the addition of a campus living room and a multipurpose classroom/event space. The college will also revitalize the Pinnacle Room as a student café.  

The Historic Commons renovation will significantly benefit the student experience and have far-reaching positive impacts on the community.  

“It has been cited that all growth and improvement made to a college or university greatly affects the town where the institution is located,” Lyerly said. “It is definitely a boon for Banner Elk to have this new project and this growth. We’re very pleased that Mr. Speight and the USDA have seen the value of this investment and made it all possible.” 

Construction is scheduled to begin in Summer 2022. McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architects & Interior Designers, Partners Development, and Frank L. Blum Construction Company are responsible for the designs and construction.  

More information about the Historic Commons renovations can be found in the Facilities Master Plan.

By Emily WebbApril 01, 2022
CommunityCampus Life