Carolina North to replace Horace Williams Airport

Horace Williams Airport will soon close, but academic innovation is scheduled to take flight with the construction of Carolina North early next year.

Parts of Carolina North, a satellite research campus, will be built where the airport currently stands on University-owned property off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

After nearly 15 years of discussion, the green light to begin construction on Carolina North came after delays caused by budget constraints.

Carolina North will include several research facilities, a new law school and housing.

The first research building and its infrastructure is estimated to cost $72.5 million, said Anna Wu, director of facilities planning at UNC.

The money will come from what the University makes on its leased properties, she said.

To ensure the area is safe to build on, specific actions need to be taken, said Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning.

“We’re developing a closure program, which will include adhering to the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration,” Runberg said.

“We’ll have to be taking a look at any environmental mitigation we have to do,” he said.

There are no longer any University-owned planes located at Horace Williams, and fewer than 20 planes are kept there by private citizens.

Those who own the planes at the site have known about plans for Carolina North for several years, said Carolyn Elfland, associate vice chancellor for campus services.

“I am sure people have been thinking about where they’ll relocate. It won’t be a surprise,” Elfland said.

UNC’s Medical Air Operations, which was housed at Horace Williams for 43 years, relocated to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in July 2011.

UNC funded the construction of Medical Air’s new facilities, said Dr. Tom Bacon, director of the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers, the organization that oversees the service.

He said the move created a one-time charge of $40,000.

“There are faculty who live a mile from Horace Williams who wish they could still be flying out there, but everybody has been really pleased and willing to make the trip (to RDU),” Bacon said.

Although the airport offered convenience for many, officials are excited about Carolina North.

“When you look at the opportunities that are presented by developing Carolina North, clearly that is something we need to do, and it is very much in line with our goals to encourage innovation,” Elfland said. “It’s time to move forward.”

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