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West-Edens Link (Almost) Ready for Students

To see pictures of the construction, click here.

For more than two years, residents on the outskirts of Edens Quadrangle and Main West Campus have been greeted each morning with the unwelcome sound of jarring construction equipment and beeping trucks at the site of the new West-Edens Link.

Now, $38 million, hundreds of thousands of man-hours and countless unexpected wake-up calls later, the WEL finally is set to open its doors to its own residents.

"It's a beautiful, beautiful dorm," said Duke Student Government President Joshua Jean-Baptiste. "It takes all the things that are ideal about East Campus and West Campus dorms and brings them together."

Administrators are equally satisfied with the final outcome, which<barring a hurricane<will be ready for the mid-August student move-in.

"The project is finishing up just great," said Judith White, assistant vice president and director of the Residential Program Review. "I think the WEL could soon become the dorm of choice on campus."

Not all aspects of the WEL will be ready by students' move-in, however. Because of drought restrictions, none of the landscaping in the new quad will begin until at least September, and several floors in the McClendon Tower might not be completed until the end of fall semester because of architectural problems.

The Chronicle toured the site July 12. Here are some highlights of what to expect in mid-August:

Size Does Matter

To say that administrators listened to students' complaints about small dorm rooms and hallways on other parts of the campus would be an understatement. WEL hallways, dorm rooms, commons rooms and seminar rooms are larger than almost any others on campus.

Dorm rooms average about 140 square feet for singles and 240 for doubles. Rooms also feature a walk-in closet for each resident, large windows and high ceilings. Hallways are also wider, but uniquely, are not a continuous long line. "We didn't want the dorms to look like hospital floors," White said.

Dens, Seminar Rooms and Commons Rooms

The solution was the creation of small dens, which break up each hallway into two halves. White said she expects the dens, which have space for students to meet informally or do work, to be a welcomed space alternative to commons rooms and seminar rooms.

The latter are larger versions of what other dorms call study rooms. Designed to accommodate house courses, small study groups and individual students, each seminar room features a large white board and Internet connections.

There are only four commons rooms in all of the WEL, but they are about two-and-a-half times bigger and with a nicer hard wood design than most.

"The WEL quad council can host more centralized events that involve the entire quad or campus," said Campus Council President Andrew Nurkin. "They also all have overflow porches that can accommodate even more people."

It's What's Outside That Counts

At a school where kegs could once be found regularly out on the quads, the overflow porches should be a much-heralded feature of the WEL. Union President Jesse Panuccio said the patios will make for perfect venues for bands, a capella groups and allow parties to transition from inside to outside.

The enormous walkway above House D, however, is what Panuccio and other officials are most excited about. On a daily basis, it will provide a partially covered pathway from Main West to the McClendon Tower and Edens Quad down below, as well as offer some outside seating to the tower's cafe. But students and administrators hope to use it for special events, concerts and art festivals, although parties where drinking is the main focus will probably be prohibited because of safety concerns.

All Along the WEL's Tower

The McClendon Tower is running the furthest behind schedule and will not be totally completed by the start of the fall semester. Nine stories high, the tower1s three lowest floors and the floor that opens out onto the House D walkway will be the only ones open in August. Luckily these are the floors probably most dear to the hearts of students<they include the location of the new diner and coffee shop.

Work on the other floors -- intended for social space<has been halted until mid-fall semester, mostly because air conditioning ducts ran too low, blocking windows and bringing ceilings too far down.

But Does It Look Nice?

As far as aesthetics go, the jury is still out on the WEL. The exterior of the buildings may take the most getting used to. The WEL is the only set of dorms on campus to use more than one type of stone or brick, let alone two. Duke stone, which costs six times as much as brick, is used sparingly on the dorm in favor of a mix of terra-cotta brick and a deep dark brown brick.

White said the dark brick was necessary to break up the otherwise overwhelming terra-cotta brick. Jean-Baptiste dryly called the brick design "different."

The same dark brick lines all of the walls of the interior hallways, and the dark colors are mirrored with a deep dark wood and brown-painted cement on walls and ceilings.

There are aesthetic highlights, however. The exterior structure features towers, archways, bridges, staircases, unique building angles and scattered bay windows. Commons rooms and seminar rooms have never looked as nice, and almost every room makes excellent use of natural lighting. Even the bathrooms are an improvement over those in other dorms, with a white and Duke Blue tile pattern.

Two Quads, No Green

Out on the quads, however, the sight is not as attractive and might not be for several months. The city asked the University to not plant trees or shrubs or even lay sod until water levels are higher.

The result is that although the dorms themselves will be completed, the overall site will still look like an uninhabitable work-in-progress, with dirt everywhere in sight. The delay in landscaping made a planned late-August concert on the WEL quad to kick off the year an impossibility. Panuccio said that once the greenery is planted, the main quad will make for an incredible venue for concerts, games of ultimate frisbee or lounging in the sun with a book.

Maybe, even, a nice place to take a much-needed nap.

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