After most students had long cleared campus to enjoy Spring Break, several notable Duke figures gathered in the Great Hall for a major announcement March 7.
Duke Endowment Chairman Neil Williams revealed that the Charlotte-based foundation will grant Duke a $80 million gift with the purpose of renovating Baldwin Auditorium, the West Union Building and Page Auditorium—all of which were part of the campus’ original construction. The contribution is the largest single philanthropic gift in the University’s history.
The Duke Endowment—which is separate from the University and was founded by James B. Duke—has given the University more than $1.2 billion since 1924. During Duke’s Financial Aid Initiative, which began in 2005 and raised more than $300 million, the endowment awarded the University $75 million.
“We reached this conclusion with great happiness and deep conviction that our wonderful founder would be very pleased at what is going on at Duke today and would also be pleased that three historic buildings that date back literally to the original campus are going to be renovated in a way that we hope will add to the vitality and utility of those buildings on this wonderful campus,” Williams said at a press conference last Monday.
The gift became tangible when Williams went off script and handed President Richard Brodhead a check for $10 million to get the projects underway. The rest of the pledge will be paid over multiple years as construction progresses.
“Today’s gift speaks to a fundamental or foundational commitment of... ensuring the highest quality of experience to the students who come to Duke,” Brodhead said. “Duke’s great shared spaces, our great common spaces, our common rooms... these spaces are going to be touched by the magic wand in a way that will take these beautiful exteriors of these historic buildings and perpetuate them for many more generations.”
Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, noted in an e-mail that work on Baldwin is set to start before the end of 2011, though renovations of West Union and Page will not begin until the summer of 2012 at the earliest.
Schoenfeld added that the administration intends to make the renovation process open and inclusive, as this is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to transform some of the most important spaces on campus.
The conversations between the University and the endowment about these projects began several years ago but were halted because of the recession.
“It was put on hold when the economic turmoil affected both the Duke Endowment and Duke University, but the recent recovery has now made it possible to continue,” Schoenfeld said.
Plans are still being developed regarding the closing and relocation of the many services and offices provided by these three buildings. Schoenfeld said the University community will be notified in advance of any disruptions.
“A project of this magnitude will inevitably create some disruption and inconvenience, but we will be working hard to minimize the impact on students, employees and visitors,” he said.
The construction will take priority over projects including New Campus, an effort intended to replace Central Campus that was delayed by the recession. The Board of Trustees discussed a logical first step to New Campus at its February meeting, but no plans for construction have been announced.
Brodhead said the University continues to see New Campus as an important priority, but the most pressing matter is taking care of what the University already has.
“We continue to have a vision for New Campus, but [West Union, Page and Baldwin] have not had any loving attention in a long time,” Brodhead said.
Brodhead noted that West Union currently consists of “long wings that are all chopped up” and this renovation will be a complete transformation to a “modern open space.”
“The historic parts will be as beautiful as always, but we want to transform the inside, open it up so that it can be a place of connectivity,” Brodhead said.