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Plans add up for School of Science and Math - Burke County Notebook
Burke County Notebook

Plans add up for School of Science and Math - Burke County Notebook

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Before Darren Lathan returned home to Morganton, he worked with Duda/ Paine Architects in Durham and was lead project manager for the new western campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

NCSSM is a selective-enrollment public high school for juniors and seniors established in 1980 in Durham with a second campus coming soon to Morganton.

“I worked on a master plan and design for the School of Science and Math for three years,” Lathan said. “It took a while. We explored Broughton and other places, and it was a long process before the location was figured out.”

The land selected was formerly owned by the North Carolina School for the Deaf, and several of their original buildings are being renovated for the new school.

A Morganton native, Lathan graduated from Freedom High School in 1993 and later the North Carolina State University School of Design. He was employed as an architect in Texas and several other places before settling at Duda/Paine. His wife, Treasure, also a Morganton native, continues to work as the director of graphics for the Durham architecture firm. She will return to Morganton next summer after their younger son, Reilly, graduates from high school. Their older son, Avery, is a senior at UNC Wilmington.

During his 19 years at Duda/Paine, Lathan kept in touch with architect Robert Salsbury in Morganton, a mentor he shadowed in high school.

“I reached out to Robert Salsbury to liaison with us on the NCSSM project.”

Watch as Turan Duda, an architect working on the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics' Morganton campus, explains how they planned the layout of the buildings.

He said Salsbury told him, “I think you need to move home and you need to do that.”

Lathan said his talks with Salsbury made an impression.

“I loved Duda/Paine and they were great to us, but it sparked an interest in me to go out on my own,” he said. “I moved back (to Morganton) in July 2019, and Robert let me rent office space and gave me support. I started my own company.”

Salsbury is retired, but has an active license and continues to offer encouragement.

Lathan’s firm, NVERSE Architects, has designed structures for the Burke Arts Council, a new Gamewell restaurant for JD’s Smokehouse, and Little Guatemala Coffeehouse and indoor soccer gym.

Although Lathan is not directly involved now with architecture work for NCSSM, he stays informed and frequently communicates with Duda/Paine and the school.

I spoke with him recently about the school’s progress after having an opportunity to walk through the building site.

Despite COVID-19 and funding challenges, NCSSM’s western campus will open in the fall of 2022 to 150 high school juniors. They will comprise the school’s senior class the following year when 150 new juniors will be admitted, for a total of 300 students for the 2023-24 year.

“The master plan is designed for 600 students and current buildings are programmed for that growth,” Lathan said.

He added that more dorms will be needed, however.

Which campus, Durham or Morganton, will a student attend? Lathan said, “The goal is for both campuses to be open to students all over the state, aiming to create a diversity both geographically and academically. Students will list a first and second preference.”

The architect added, “Admission is very competitive, but they try to accept from every congressional district.”

In contrast to Durham’s urban location, the western campus sits on a hill with a beautiful view of surrounding fields and mountains, the landscaping designed to take advantage of the setting. Outdoor spaces for students to gather are planned along with outdoor walkways between buildings to get students outside.

Lathan said of the original School for the Deaf structures, “The largest building being renovated is Goodwin Hall. It will serve as the main administration building, but will also include classrooms and faculty work areas. Joiner Hall will also be renovated eventually to serve as the Arts Building for various arts and music programs. Jeter Hall is being used in the short term for the Arts programs until renovation is fully funded for Joiner.”

N.C. School for the Deaf, next-door neighbor to NCSSM, dates from 1894 and has a long and important history in Burke County. Some former students and staff deeply mourn the loss of Rankin Hall and other buildings and find it difficult to accept the changes to their beloved campus. Lathan recognizes these strong emotions and explained that certain structures were built for their time and after careful study were determined unfeasible for modern function even with renovation.

The spacious library is new and offers huge windows to capture morning light, and a view of the old cattle barn.

“The barn will be renovated for a multipurpose space,” Lathan said. “We cut a hole out of the middle of the floor and the side will have tiered seating. It will be on two levels.”

He added, “They’ll have cool fairs where they bring different vendors, college fairs, and performances. It will hold 450 people. It’s smaller than CoMMA, but bigger than a black box theater, so we’re not replicating. The idea is that it will be open to the community to rent for special events.”

Morganton is fortunate to welcome both the new campus of NCSSM and the return of Darren Lathan and his family.

Gwen Veazey is a member of the Morganton Writers’ Group.

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