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Sororities Pack It Up

As sororities say good-bye this summer to their storage homes of about 10 years, the future looks bright for the organizations, but grim for their former establishments.

The sororities' move to Trent Drive Hall marks not only the end of an era for the little white houses on Alexander Avenue and Pace Street, but likely the end of their existence. "All of Central Campus will get substantially reworked over the next years as Duke creates a village," said Jeffrey Potter, director of real estate administration. "These houses just aren't worth saving."

While relatively new to the University community, the houses have a rich history with the area. Potter described them as "mill houses" built in the 1910s and 20s by the owners of the Erwin Cotton Mill to house their workers. The mill was located just off of East Campus where the current Erwin Square Apartments stand.

When the Mill moved to Greensboro in the late 1960s, many of the houses were given to the University, which in turn demolished them to build the current Central Campus Apartments. But the Mill retained some buildings, the current storage houses, for private owners.

The six standing mill houses, purchased by the University in the early 1990s, have been used only by two groups--Panhellenic sororities and the Jewish organization Hillel. Four of the buildings housed 10 sororities.

"Before [using the houses], the sororities used storage under the [Taishoff Aquatic Center] pool on West Campus, but this was a problem because it could get humid and too hot," Potter explained. "The decision was made to move them, and coincidentally we had just bought the houses."

While Hillel moved on to greener pastures when the Freeman Center for Jewish Life opened its doors in May 1999, the sororities remained in the houses, even as the safety of the buildings became increasingly questionable over the years.

But with campus-wide renovations rampant, the time has now come for the two to part, and sororities will move to more adequate space in Trent this August.

"Each sorority will have its own space in Trent," Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said. "They will have a meeting space in addition to storage space."

This is an important aspect of the move, as a departure from the houses means looking to use new space as frequented meeting areas as opposed to just rarely visited storage rooms.

"Mainly we used the houses for storage, and typically nothing else.... People went there maybe once or twice a year," Panhel President Kerianne Ryan said. "We had been having an ongoing discussion of how we could make things better."

The move comes as a result of the increasing danger of the houses as time takes its toll on the physical conditions of the buildings. While the houses are not officially condemned, Potter considers them safe only for storage purposes and not for any sort of lengthy group gatherings.

"From safety and security to actual physical conditions of the building," Trent is better, said Todd Adams, director of the recently created Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. "Trent has card swipe access, is much more secure and is wired."

Initially, Panhel considered using a house on Buchanan Boulevard, but because of safety concerns as well as the daunting renovations necessary, they decided on the alternative.

"Trent space gives more of a possibility to be used as office space.... We even have the option of keeping desks and dressers in our rooms," Ryan said. "We will also have a phone line and conference and larger meeting rooms."

The wing in Trent will house 10 Panhel sororities as well as the eight National Panhellenic Council groups. "I think there is a larger goal for unity especially with the office of greek life and everything being under one roof," Ryan added. "We get more space, more interaction and safer facilities."

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