The Construction Obstruction
Every morning, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask hears the beeping of trucks reversing and sounds of drilling from his cushy office in the Allen Building.
Laying out three sheets of paper detailing 48 Duke construction projects that are currently in the works or planned to start soon on his round wooden table, it's clear that even Duke administrators cannot escape the signs of the University's numerous construction projects.
For students on the ground, however, construction is an everyday nuisance disrupting the flow of a normal campus life. When I visited Durham recently, I realized construction had become more prominent than I thought possible when I moved out of my West Campus dorm a month before.
Cars and buses struggled to get around the $1 million Chapel Circle improvements project on their way up to the Chapel. The parking lot in front of the Chapel was completely shut off by tall silver fences. The shortcut through the Flowers Building to the Bryan Center plaza no longer exists. A gaping hole stands in its place, as part of the $95 million West Union project. And let's not forget the scaffolding in front of the libraries, the closed main entrance to Perkins Library, the closed main entrance to the plaza and the imminent closing of the Chapel—Duke's primary landmark will be repaired for the entire 2015-16 academic year.
I could not help but chuckle when I saw the latest Chronicle issue detailing yet another construction project—adding a parking garage on Science Drive.
Having three major projects in the heart of West Campus has particularly irked upperclassmen. Emily Hadley, a rising senior, noted that having so many projects occurring at once without any forum to discuss the issue has been her biggest frustration. Additionally, having so many projects transpire at once has disrupted a sense of a Duke community that used to exist.
"I underestimated how important it was to have things like the plaza be accessible or the entryway to Perkins or the Great Hall," she said. "We used to study in the Great Hall. You could walk through and see people you know. It meant you didn’t have to do much planning ahead of meeting with people—you could count on seeing people out and about in certain gathering areas."
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said he hears this kind of complaint "all of the time." He noted that the issue arises from having two things intersect—thoughtfully planned projects and those the administrators did not expect.
An in-depth look at Duke's projects and price tags:
In his office, Trask showed me a piece of limestone about the size of my forearm. This, he said, is what fell from the Chapel roof one afternoon, starting a long and unexpected restoration process.
The Chapel ceiling roof is 85 years old. When the limestone fell, it was taken to the Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. structural engineering lab in Chicago. The engineers discovered that when the Chapel was built the construction workers miscalculated how much water the limestone absorbed, causing parts of the ceiling built between 1932-47 to collapse.
When asked how much the Chapel renovation project would cost, Trask replied, "that's a very interesting question." He estimated it would be approximately $10 million, but they cannot be sure just yet.
This kind of bad luck has stretched across campus as well. It was just an average Wednesday in February when the ceiling collapsed in the West Duke building on East Campus, forcing the building to close for the remainder of the year. Again, faulty construction was to blame—construction workers had built "false ceilings" to cover up the building's air conditioning units. Fixing this problem turned into a $5 million project, as workers discovered the building is composed of wood frames but lacked a sprinkler system to protect it from fire (oops).
Not all construction projects came out of the woodwork, though. The West Union project, which arguably serves as the greatest hinderance to West Campus life, is one component of a three-part construction project funded by the Charlotte-based Duke endowment.
The endowment set aside $80 million to renovate Baldwin Auditorium, West Union and Page Auditorium. Baldwin was completed last summer at $15 million. The major renovations planned for Page Auditorium were forced to take a backseat due to the growing expense of West Union, which turned into a $95 million project by itself. To cover the extra costs, Duke administrators have relied on philanthropy, and a gift of $10 million for West Union construction was announced this past year. The Page Auditorium renovations are, therefore, largely cosmetic—rolling in at a modest $5 million. Collectively, the three-part project has turned into a $115 million expense.
When completed, the West Union will host several meeting spaces, a pub and coffee bar. Students will also be able to eat Indian, Asian and Italian food, among other venues. It is set to be completed Spring 2016.
"In many ways the West Union project and all the work with Duke houses go hand-in-hand," Moneta said, referring to the housing model installed three years ago. "The last three years [spent] to create a house model and create communities that are adequately resourced—where independent students aren't second class to selective [student groups]—is complimented by a creation like West Union where communities can gather."
But as Hadley notes, "The rising seniors and rising juniors are the classes getting screwed."
"We are the classes getting the most construction and we are never going to see it. The university is also not offering any alternatives," she added.
Vice President of Facilities and Management John Noonan said that since he started working at Duke in 2005, there are 175-300 projects going on at any given time. What is unusual this year is the physical proximity of these projects, he added.
And there are more to come.
Workers will begin building a Health and Wellness Center March 2015 at the corner of Towerview Road and Union Drive next to Penn Pavilion. The Center was approved by the Board of Trustees and is expected to cost approximately $30 million.
Administrators are also in the works designing an Arts Building that will be built across from the Nasher Museum of Art. Estimated at $35 million, the building will host studio space for painting, sculpture and dance as well as classrooms. It is set to begin May 2015.
Almost all the projects are funded via philanthropy, Trask said. The Chapel renovations will be funded by central and school revenue streams, the parking garage on Science Drive will be funded by Duke Parking and Transportation; West Duke will be funded via emergency repairs and Edens Quad renovations set to begin May 2015 will come from Housing, Dining and Residence Life. The Charlotte-based Duke endowment funded most of the West Union, Page Auditorium and Baldwin Auditorium projects.
Construction at Duke is hardly contained to academic and residence life. Thanks to funding from the Duke Forward campaign, the University has been steeped in a number of athletics-based facilities projects during the past two years. The largest of these projects is renovations to Wallace Wade Stadium, which will take place following each of the next two football seasons.
The first phase of renovations, which is due to begin directly after the last home game of the 2014 season, will involve removing the track surrounding the field, lowering the field and demolishing walls surrounding the track to add four rows of seat. This phase of construction will cost $6 million and will be completed by August 2015, Trask said.
The more costly phase of Wallace Wade's renovation will begin in April 2015, which will involve the construction of a new media tower in place of the current Finch-Yeager Building. Trask said that he and Athletic Director Kevin White have yet to finalize a design for the project—original designs were appraised at $50 million, and the group's goal is to spend $40 million on the project.
Trask noted that the 50-foot frontal addition to Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is due to begin construction in May 2016, is priced at $15 million and is projected for an August 2017 completion.
Other athletics facilities projects include the construction of brand new grass and turf practice fields, which opened in December 2013, the new Williams Track and Field Complex, which will open in February 2015 and Scott Pavilion, which will house a new ticket office, team store and office space for the athletic department.
As it stands now, construction will only continue to progress for the next two academic years. For future generations of Duke students, the campus will become a hub of activity. But for now, students can only hope to find more shortcuts to get to class.
"There are very few students for whom this is a positive part of their Duke experience," Hadley said. "We recognize that Duke needs to expand and grow, but I feel this isn’t the first time the University has neglected the students' opinions on something that affects students' lives."