CFCC Looks to the Past to Design Future Classroom Building

While designing its new classroom building in downtown Wilmington, Cape Fear Community College has found inspiration by looking into the past.

A black and white photograph of the old Atlantic Coast Line railroad passenger depot has hung on the wall of the college’s board room for years, offering a glimpse of what downtown looked like nearly a century ago.

That picture – along with the creativity of local architects at LS3P, who are designing the project for the college – has helped create an overall concept for the college’s new Union Station classroom building. It will be built on the same spot where the gone, but not forgotten Atlantic Coast Line Railroad passenger depot once stood several decades ago. That building was torn down in 1970 by the city, and replaced by a parking lot and storage building that was used by the Wilmington Police Department.

Located at the corner of Front and Red Cross streets, Union Station will include many of the distinctive architectural features of the old railroad building – an impressive structure with a rounded front entrance and limestone arches built in 1913. Union Station will be more than twice as large as the original structure, which was 81,000 square feet. The new Union Station building will be 190,000 square feet, stand five stories high and feature large windows to let in more natural light.


The design of CFCC's new Union Station classroom building is strongly influenced by the look of the old Atlantic Coast Line railroad passenger depot which once sat on the same location in downtown Wilmington.

The Union Station building will house classrooms and labs for expanded health sciences programs, general biology courses, college transfer classes, and offices for student services and business operations. The plan for the building also includes a large lecture hall to host larger classes, educational forums and community meetings.

“It’s going to be building that will not only help educate more local residents, but will become a new focal point for the northern part of downtown,” said CFCC President Eric McKeithan.

The addition of Union Station will dramatically improve the current condition of the site, which consists of the vacant “pit” area now used for parking and storage and the abandoned rail bed, now overgrown with weeds.

The college plans to re-landscape the rail bed located behind the site into a green space with an amphitheater and walkway with trees that will run from Third St. to Nutt St. Recent designs of the walkway show the pavers which resemble the pattern of a train track. This area will serve as a new gathering place for college events and the general public.

Built into the wall behind the rail bed is a small “bunker-style” room that was once used as a carpenter shop by the railroad. CFCC is working with the Wilmington Railroad Museum to restore the shop with tools and other artifacts to resemble the way it would have appeared when the railroad was operational. This area will serve as a static historical display for students and the general public. The college has also asked the Historic Wilmington Foundation for help in developing the material for the historical plaques which will be mounted on the site.

In addition to the esthetic improvements, the new site will feature a new 1,000-1,200 car parking deck for students located behind the Schwartz Center along with new sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety for students walking to class from the large student parking area. Currently, students have to cross the narrow sidewalk on the Front St. bridge to access the classroom buildings from the parking area.

The combined cost of the building and parking deck is $77.9 million and will be paid for with funds from the 2008 bond referendum passed by New Hanover County voters last November.

After the design is completed and approved by state construction office, the college expects to begin construction on the new building in 2010 and open the new facility sometime in late 2011.

If the project can stay on schedule, taxpayers may even get more bang for their buck. Because of the economic slowdown, the cost of construction projects are 15-20% lower than they were 12 months ago.

For more details about the Union Station project, visit