A long-awaited project at Appalachian State University is now underway. The Innovation District recently had its groundbreaking.

The Conservatory for Biodiversity and Education is the first building. It's being constructed at the former Broyhill Inn and Conference Center. The conservatory will include a mix of laboratories, meeting spaces, and gardens.

University leaders say the district will help broaden economic development opportunities for rural areas in Northwest North Carolina.

Pedestrian walkways and the construction of at least 120 rental units for faculty and staff housing are also part of the first phase. App State officials say more housing is needed to help address shortages in the community that affect their ability to recruit and retain talented employees.

Appalachian State Chancellor Sheri Everts says the district will be filled with sustainable infrastructure.

"We are also reviewing concepts for a zero-carbon district," says Everts. "This means the buildings in the Innovation District will be highly energy-efficient and powered by carbon-free renewable energy sources. This will not only lower the environmental impact of the buildings, it will also help make them more financially viable."

The Innovation District has been in the making for years but got a recent boost when the legislature allocated $54 million in the state budget for the initiative.

Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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