NC Central University Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye this week welcomed visitors to witness an afternoon of formal ribbon-cutting ceremonies for three new residential halls and a new student center on the campus.

Two of the buildings, the Alston Street Apartments and George Street Residential Complex, opened in late 2020, while the $55.4 million state-of-the-art NCCU Student Center and Lawson Street Residential Hall both opened in January.

Akinleye also announced a fifth building that will house NCCU’s School of Business will open by the fall.

NCCU spokeswoman Ayana Hernandez in a press release Monday said the pandemic delayed celebration activities and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the new campus facilities.

Akinleye, during welcoming remarks to attendees who had gathered at the Lawson Street Residential Hall, said the pandemic also posed supply chain and workforce challenges, and were completed “almost on time during a global pandemic.”

The gleaming, red-brick residential halls and the mammoth student center with its tall, gray-tinted windows and pastel earth-tone colors, were built in response to “student needs and a desire to provide a powerful learning experience for Eagle scholars,”  Akinleye said.

“In 2019 the campus [residence halls] could only accommodate 2,828 students in our own residential halls, as well as aging infrastructure that required constant and expensive repairs,” Akinleye said. “We had a contract with an area hotel in which we actually housed some of our students. But we knew that that was not sustainable.”

With the completion of the new residential halls, the university can now house an additional 1,274 new beds in semi-suite and apartment-style units to accommodate the growing demand for contemporary, on-campus living and learning communities, Hernandez stated in the release.

Akinleye said campus administrators and board of trustee members realized that investing in the safety, security, and well-being of each of its students was “of the highest priority.”

“We then began to strategize on how to immediately develop a viable solution with an aggressive goal of building, in short order, three new halls.”

Akinleye said the residential halls were designed and constructed through a public-private partnership with Provident Resources Group, Inc., a national nonprofit whose “charitable missions” include affordable housing, assisting local and state governments with facilities and services, quality health care, and “support for education at all levels,” according to its website.

He also noted that NCCU’s Board of Trustees approved a new campus master plan that calls for more building projects, land acquisition, transportation accessibility, safety, along with infrastructural needs and landscaping concepts.

The NCCU officials in the press release touted the new, $55.4 million state-of-the-art NCCU Student Center at Nelson and Fayetteville streets. The new student center replaces the Alfonso Elder Student Union that was built in 1968.

“It was the oldest student union in the UNC System,” Akinleye said about the old student union that sits across the street from its ultra-modern counterpart like a rather forlorn poor relation.

Akinleye said plans for the new 100,230 square-foot student center were conceived in 2015 during the tenure of former NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, the university’s first female chancellor who died in 2016.

The NCCU Student Center will include space for student operations and office space for student government, including spaces for fraternities and sororities, a career and professional development center, cafes and food court, an Eagle retail shop, and a lactation suite. 

There’s also a rehearsal room, a men’s achievement center, a women’s center, an LGBTA Center, an intercultural center, and a half dozen multi-purpose rooms. There’s even a high tech game room in the building.

“A key feature,” Akinleye said, is a multi-use gathering space that can seat up to 750 people for banquets and 1,100 for lectures. The space can also be divided into four meeting roomsfor conferences and banquets, small- and medium-sized conference rooms,” according to the release.

“It’s a huge plus,” said Akinleye, who described the multi-use space as “a new addition to the inventory of spaces in Durham and the Research Triangle.”

The new center, Akinleye added, was financed through student fees. The students who contributed to the center’s construction knew they would matriculate before its completion.

“They did it anyway,” Akinleye said. “They were deeply committed to paying it forward.”

UPDATE: NC Central University Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. The INDY regrets the error.

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