The West Duke building will open in September, more than six months after a classroom ceiling collapsed.
The West Duke building will open in September, more than six months after a classroom ceiling collapsed.

More than six months after a ceiling collapse, crews are finishing construction on the West Duke building as it prepares to reopen next month.

The project was initially hindered due to delayed building permits from the city of Durham, facilities management staff said. Originally scheduled to be finished in August in time for the start of the Fall semester, the building now has an anticipated completion date of September 15. Meanwhile, academic departments displaced by the repairs remain in limbo.

"The work is almost completed," said Sarah Burdick, director for administration and special projects for facilities management. "The major challenge was waiting until the city finally issued building permits."

A second floor ceiling collapsed in February, and a subsequent examination of the building found that all plaster ceilings in West Duke should be replaced. With the building closed for repairs, facilities management decided to proceed with several other West Duke projects that had been in the planning process when the ceiling collapsed—a roof replacement, a new sprinkler system and a new elevator.

The construction required a building permit from the city of Durham—a process which usually takes about two weeks. But for West Duke the process was five weeks, for reasons unknown to the University, Burdick said.

With the building permit secured, crews were able to proceed with construction and the project has experienced no further delays, Burdick added.

West Duke typically houses the education, mathematics and philosophy departments, in addition to the Kenan Institute of Ethics and the Army ROTC program. As a result of the continued construction, these departments have moved elsewhere.

The philosophy department has not been housed in a central location since mid-August, which has complicated the scheduling of office hours and burdened teachers who must travel between East and West Campuses to teach.

“Our lives have been completely disrupted for nine months,” said Alex Rosenberg, philosophy department chair and R. Taylor Cole professor of philosophy. “We’ve lost all of the institutional necessities for a collegial academic life.”

Faculty in the Kenan Institute of Ethics have faced a similar issue. The institute was relocated to Smith Warehouse a few weeks after the closure of West Duke, and the department has faced challenges in carrying out all of its typical roles in a single location from its temporary offices.

“The space that we normally have in West Duke is mixed use—it’s classroom space, programming space, office space and gallery space,” said Katharine Scott, communications and advancement manager for Kenan. “Since we’ve been here, it’s been a little disjointed.”

MASTERY, a program run by Kenan that tutors refugee youth in Durham, has been unable to accommodate as many students due to space limitations in the Smith Warehouse, Scott said. Art exhibits and some classes have also been held at other locations around campus.

Despite the challenges, both departments noted that they appreciate the work that people around the University have done to help them cope with the construction.

“It’s been nice that so many people on campus have worked to find homes for all of us even though the circumstances weren’t ideal,” Scott said. “We’re grateful for the space that we have and that people have been accommodating in letting us use their space.”