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New engineering building may be coming to Duke in near future

As West Union celebrates its first year and the Arts Center nears completion, Duke officials are turning their attention to the next big project—a new engineering building.

Although the building is still in the planning stages and has not been approved by the Board of Trustees to begin construction, the new structure aims to increase classroom space and expand the Pratt School of Engineering’s research capabilities, explained George Truskey, R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering and senior associate dean for research

“What the building is going to do is allow us to really fulfill our mission and be able to educationally provide space for students for design and more classroom space for students,” he said.

Main features will include more active learning spaces, research labs, a large lecture room and teaching labs as well as entrepreneurial collaboration and office spaces, according to a project summary from Facilities Management. The building will be about 150,000 gross square feet and will be located east of the Fitzpatrick Building and the Bostock Library Addition at the corner of Research Drive and Telecom Drive.

Truskey noted that the extra space is needed because Pratt’s undergraduate student population has increased in recent years.

According to the project summary, the school has also experienced a 29 percent increase in graduate students as well as a 12 percent increase in tenure track faculty, with an overall doubling of its research output. 

The Pratt administration has been working with faculty to determine which features the new building should include, Truskey explained. Their main needs are larger classrooms and flexible spaces that can be rearranged to accommodate different forms of teaching. Space for students to complete design projects is another priority, he said.

“We would like to include more design space in the new building and then research space for faculty that we would hire,” Truskey said.

They are also working with the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative to ensure students have space to collaborate on entrepreneurial projects and build prototypes.

The University is still in the process of raising money for the building, explained Sarah Burdick, director of administration and special projects.

Truskey noted that the building will mostly be funded through gifts from donors, but it is not included in the Duke Forward campaign.

“We’re developing statements that describe what we’re envisioning and how their gift can help build a better engineering school and enhance the experience for students,” he said.

After funding is secured, Truskey explained that Pratt officials can submit their proposal to the Board of Trustees for approval. He said he hopes they will be able to do so within the next nine months. After the Board signs off on the project, construction can begin right away, and the building will take about two years to complete, he added.

Designing the new building has not been a quick process—ideas for the structure were first proposed in 2006. Truskey attributed the delays to challenges in funding as well as the turnover of deans in Pratt, which brought with it changes in ideas about the design of the building.

However, he said such a long timeline is not unusual for the construction of a new structure on campus.

“A building is not easy to put together because you have to demonstrate to the administration and the Board of Trustees that there is a need for the building and how it enhances your vision for the school and then that you're using the space you have wisely,” Truskey said.

Pratt officials also have been talking with different departments and schools about forming partnerships, although they currently do not have any partners.

Another challenge has been the building’s location. It was initially proposed to occupy a site near the Physics Building, Burdick explained. However, this would have required relocating existing utility lines, adding to the cost.

Truskey explained that Executive Vice President Tallman Trask suggested the current site east of the Fitzpatrick Building because building there would not require overcoming these hurdles.

Although many details for the building are still unclear, Truskey said he is hopeful about the project’s potential to create research space that brings people together and accelerates collaboration.

“I think it will add to our capacity and ability to be a premier university for engineering education and research,” he said.


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