Hurricane Dorian didn’t deter the groundbreaking ceremony of North Carolina’s Plant Sciences Building with festivities moved indoors to the auditorium of the James B. Hunt Building the day after the storm pounded the North Carolina coast.
The Sept. 6 launch date was set well in advance and organizers agreed the groundbreaking would go on despite the hurricane. In fact, the weather for the Friday morning ceremony the day after Dorian hit eastern North Carolina was ideal with blue skies and pleasant temperatures.
The hurricane didn’t stop the crowd of 400 stakeholders to show up and pack the auditorium to celebrate the launch of the $160 million, 185,000 square foot building that is set for completion by summer 2021 on North Carolina State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh.
Organizers were disappointed that the planned outdoor groundbreaking at the site of the building on the Centennial Campus had to be moved indoors to the nearby Hunt Library, but they adapted and pegged the event a success.
Instead of a groundbreaking ceremony, representatives from the 18 agricultural research stations across North Carolina brought small jars of soil from their respective stations and combined all of the soils on the stage of the Hunt Library auditorium that served as the make do setting for the groundbreaking. Groundbreaking ceremony speakers placed their shovels in the soil on the stage floor they had hoped to use at the actual site.
“This is the first time there has been a shovel in the Hunt Library,” quipped North Carolina State Chancellor Dr. Randy Woodson.
In remarks made at the Hunt Library ceremony, Dr. Richard Linton, dean of North Carolina State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the building is a “big dream, huge dream” that has come true thanks to the commitment from leaders of 44 commodity and community groups that raised $9 million, successful passage of the Connect North Carolina Bond in 2016 that raised $145.2 million in state funds for the initiative and $48 million in grants from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
“If we look at the future of agriculture nationally and globally, it’s estimated that 85 percent of future jobs will involve some kind of facet associated with plant sciences. It’s our responsibility to be able to prepare for the future,” Linton said.
The North Carolina State University Plant Sciences Building will be headquarters for the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative , an effort to make the state the world’s leading hub for plant science innovation.
Chancellor Woodson said the building “is an extraordinary step in our interdisciplinary approach of bringing together North Carolina’s agriculture community with the great agtech industry across the state.”
“The Plant Sciences Initiative is so critical to the University because it really continues to keep us at the forefront of plant science research, and it keeps North Carolina competitive in agriculture. So, this is the critical project for us to ensure we’re always going to be there for our farmers and be able to support them through the cutting-edge research that we do,” Woodson said.
Both the Plant Sciences building, and the broader North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative was envisioned by North Carolina farmers and agribusinesses seeking new and enhanced plant science discoveries to increase yields, enhance sustainability and extend growing seasons.
Flad Architects completed the building design in late 2018 and DPR Construction kicked off construction efforts in April 2019. The building is set to open its doors in 2021. It will allow for what the architects called “creative collisions” — ones that would spark problem-solving.
Investing in the building is investing in North Carolina’s future, said Golden LEAF Board Chairman Randy Isenhower. He said it illustrates that North Carolina is the leader in global agriculture and the initiative will bring long-term transformational benefits to agriculture.
“Supporting agriculture through innovation and research ultimately helps to grow rural communities,” Isenhower said. “This state-of-the-art facility and initiative are the tools North Carolina’s farmers need to boost that growth. Most importantly, it will give our farmers and rural communities the edge in an increasingly competitive global market.”
Unlike many buildings on the North Carolina state campus, the Plant Sciences Building will not house a specific discipline or department. Instead, it’s being built with the flexibility to allow teams of scientists working on specific projects to move in and out of the building. The building will also feature rooftop greenhouses, shared equipment and laboratory spaces as well as meeting areas, seminar rooms and board rooms.