University administrators held a ribbon cutting at the UNC Students Stores in the middle of campus on Tuesday along with personnel from Barnes & Noble College.

The ceremony followed a months-long renovation costing approximately $4 million to the facility after Barnes & Noble College entered into an agreement with the university in April 2016 to take over operations of the Student Stores. That proposal was met with protests on the campus from those who felt like this was a step toward privatization of the university.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting that the partnership is helping the university in its mission of remaining affordable and accessible to all who qualify for admission.

“We aren’t going to be who we say we are – make our facilities, make our learning experiences open to everybody – if we don’t have sufficient need-based aid,” Folt said. “And that is going to come in many different ways.

“And the fact that this bookstore is contributing estimated $3 million a year to need-based aid is something that really couldn’t be more important and a more demonstrable output of the efforts that have gone in to try to make it a very special place.”

Folt added that the university had already seen cost savings thanks to the program. That is in addition to the payout from Barnes & Noble College as part of the agreement, which is for 10 years and $30 million. Barnes & Noble guaranteed payments of $3 million for the first two years of the contract after the university covers operating expenses. That money is being designated for need-based scholarship, according to UNC officials. The previous Student Stores operation resulted in an estimated $425,000 going to scholarships in its last year of operation before the transition.

Makayla Proctor is a recent UNC graduate who worked at the Student Stores while attending Carolina. She has stayed on to work there full-time after graduation.

“Having student workers here helps to show people that we care about the university, that we’re here for the people that need it the most,” Proctor said. “And I feel like the store – even after the transition – it still kept that same feel.

“We want to show people that we are going to be here for this community that we had built at Carolina.”

Llyod Kramer is a history professor at UNC in addition to his role as director of Carolina Public Humanities. He was the faculty representative during the renovation process and said he was pleased with the new facility.

“It’s well-designed, and it’s already become a buzzing center of student and faculty activity,” Kramer said. “Every time I come through here there are just lots of people. People sitting at tables and drinking coffee and talking about the meaning of life and why are we here – all the things that’s supposed to happen at a university.”

Private bookstore operator Follett initially approached the university in the fall of 2015 about taking over the operations of the Student Stores. Barnes & Noble College was chosen from eight pitches brought forward during a request for proposals.

Photo via Blake Hodge