NCSU students to eye new uses for vacant city buildings

011119 Building for Sale

The vacant former Piggly Wiggly building at the corner of Ehringhaus and McMorrine streets is one of several downtown properties a group of architectural students from North Carolina State University will be studying next week as part of a project to develop new uses for vacant and underused buildings in Elizabeth City.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, January 12, 2019

North Carolina State University architectural students are looking to help Elizabeth City with new design ideas for long-vacant or underused properties, including the former Elizabeth City Shipyard.

NCSU Professors David Hill and Andrew Fox are looking to have their graduate students work on coming up with new uses for several downtown properties, according to City Manager Rich Olson and Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Executive Director Deborah Malenfant.

Hill and Fox are architectural professors and co-directors of the Coastal Dynamics Design Lab that addresses “ecological and community development challenges in coastal regions,” according to their NCSU biographies.

Olson said the professors originally approached Elizabeth City about student projects several years ago, but those plans fell through when the city's effort to purchase the shipyard failed. The city withdrew its offer to purchase in August 2016 when it found worse-than-expected environmental problems at the site.

The professors have renewed interest in Elizabeth City because they still feel an obligation to serve coastal communities and haven't done projects in northeastern North Carolina lately, Olson continued.

The professors plan to bring 23 students, most graduate-level with a few undergrads, to Elizabeth City next week to look at the shipyard, the former Elizabeth City Middle School, and properties on eastern Ehringhaus Street, Olson and Malenfant reported.

Malenfant added the students would look at several vacant properties on Ehringhaus, including the former Piggly Wiggly building at the corner of Ehringhaus and McMorrine streets.

Whichever properties the professors assign students to, it's expected groups of students will work on each, Olson continued.

The students will study the buildings and potential uses that mesh with the city's waterfront master plan, Olson explained. They'll then consider what's economically viable, and offer architectural designs of their plans, he said. The final projects will be presented toward the end of April in the Raleigh area, Olson said.

The students would also present their projects in Elizabeth City, perhaps on May 3, which will be that month's First Friday ArtWalk, Olson added.

Though the students may not come up with ideas that haven't occurred to city officials, Olson said they would help flesh out those ideas.

The students' work should be of good value to the city, Olson also said. To hire an architectural firm for similar services would likely cost about $30,000 per property, he said.

Malenfant similarly welcomed the students' interest. It's helpful to have another set of eyes consider the city's ideas, and the students’ work could help the city market properties to developers.

Malenfant noted that Elizabeth City State University’s graphics arts students do community development projects as well, but, as best she knew, NCSU and ECSU students won’t be coordinating on the projects.

Hill and Fox could not be reached for comment this week.