App State welcomes upgraded residence halls to the mountain

Chancellor Sheri Everts cuts the ribbon on Raven Rocks Residence Hall Thursday. Raven Rocks is one of two new dorms that were built on West Campus this year.

Mickey Hutchings

Chancellor Sheri Everts cuts the ribbon on Raven Rocks Residence Hall Thursday. Raven Rocks is one of two new dorms that were built on West Campus this year.

Mickey Hutchings, Managing Editor

From an open window of Raven Rocks Residence Hall, the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” plucked from an electric guitar drifted into the courtyard below. There, university administrators and key collaborators on the construction of Raven Rocks and Thunder Hill residence halls gathered to cut the ceremonial completion ribbon Thursday.

“This is a great day for the campus,” Chancellor Sheri Everts said on the patio of Thunder Hill, just a short walk from Raven Rocks and across what was formerly known as Stadium Parking Lot before the new dorms were erected. 

Just three weeks prior, the new halls became the college crash pads of hundreds of first-year, returning and transfer students. Raven Rocks and Thunder Hill can house 912 students combined, and are just the beginning to years of planning and months of construction coming to fruition on West Campus. 

Students decorated the windows of the new, towering buildings with post-it note messages broadcasting their Snapchat usernames or cracking jokes like, “So no head?”   

“This building represents another tremendous milestone as we build infrastructure that supports and elevates Appalachian’s educational mission,” Everts said through her App State-emblazoned face mask. 

The patio of Raven Rocks Hall where university administrators and key collaborators on the construction of the new dorms gathered to cut the ceremonial completion ribbon Thursday. (Mickey Hutchings)

Making room and moving forward

Last year, Everts set a goal of enrolling 20,000 students by fall 2020, and the university hit that target, welcoming 20,023 students this semester. The new dorms provide extra space for the influx of students. 

Apart from providing more places for Mountaineers to sleep, study and congregate, the dorms are bringing the university into the future. 

“These spaces have been designed to meet the needs of today’s students,” Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown said. 

Thunder Hill and Raven Rocks meet green-built certification standards and are equipped with smart thermostats. Brown highlighted the “hard-wired,” powerful WiFi installed in the dorms that can handle the internet and video conferencing-based learning the university has implemented in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to single bedrooms, the dorms feature suite- and apartment-style living, an upgrade from shared bathrooms and other communal spaces that students living in older dorms are accustomed to. 

“When I was here in Justice (Residence Hall), you had a phone at the end of the hall and everyone shared it, but that’s not today,” UNC Board of Governors member and App State alumnus Philip Byers said. “Those buildings were meant for 40 years ago, and now we’re building them for the next 40.”

The view of Thunder Hill Hall from its patio. Students decorated the windows of the new, towering buildings with post-it note messages. Here, a student displayed “Wakanda Forever,” in their window, in honor of actor Chadwick Boseman’s passing. (Mickey Hutchings)

Geography over history

The residence halls are named after popular overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just a few miles away from campus: Thunder Hill Overlook, known for its picturesque sunrise views with glimpses of the Charlotte skyline on clear days, and Raven Rocks Overlook for its breathtaking sunset scenes and sights of Grandfather Mountain. 

“Naming our buildings and spaces after local geography, geology and biology helps our students build a stronger connection with our region,” Everts said. “Many of our students chose Appalachian in part because of our stunning location.” 

Almost every building on campus is named after a person, like Anne Belk Hall and B.B. Dougherty Administration Building. Thunder Hill and Raven Rocks, however, are named after places.

Nationwide protests and demands for racial justice resulted in the names of many buildings and statues erected in honor of problematic figures being removed. UNC Chapel Hill removed names from four of its buildings over the summer, and in July, App State decided to rename two dorms named after people with racist histories – Hoey and Lovill Hall. 

Choate Construction was pounding away at the development of Laurel Creek Hall, the next dorm coming to West Campus, which is scheduled to be ready for move in by fall 2021. Surrounding Thunder Hill and Raven Rocks are cranes, bulldozers and the clatter of drills. 

Choate Construction was pounding away at the development of Laurel Creek Hall, the next dorm coming to West Campus, which is scheduled to be ready for move in by fall 2021. Surrounding Thunder Hill and Raven Rocks are cranes, bulldozers and the clatter of drills. (Mickey Hutchings)

Out with the old, in with the new

“A lot of people complain, to me personally, that a lot of these residence halls just need a little bit of a lift,” said Michael Davis, president of the Student Government Association. “I think this is beautiful.”

In February 2019, App State and RISE: A Real Estate Company signed a deal to develop a $191 million housing project in a public-private partnership, which included the two new dorms. Old dorms will be demolished and new ones, like Thunder Hill and Raven Rocks, will take their place .

Phase one of the construction project was completed, officially, with Thursday’s ribbon cutting. Phase two and three are underway with the construction of Laurel Creek and the design of New River Hall which will replace Justice Hall. 

The housing project will replace seven long-standing App State dorms: Bowie, Coltrane, Eggers, Gardner, Winkler, Justice and East. Justice Hall, the only old dorm to see its final days so far, will completely vanish in October.

“When you look at this building be assured it is far more than brick and mortar,” Everts said. “It is a home for our students, a place where they will make memories, build a community and discover what it means to live and learn like a Mountaineer.”