The independent news organization of Duke University

Residents mourn, celebrate word of Trent closing

Trent Drive Hall, historically the least popular dormitory on campus and wedged between Central Campus and the Medical Center, received its death sentence last week after an extended illness. It was about 50 years old.

Administrators officially announced the long-expected closing of Trent as a dorm with last week's release of details for this spring's housing lottery. Although housing officials attempted to attract students to Trent during last year's lottery - with advantages such as single rooms at lower prices - only 67 students chose to do so, about 80 percent fewer residents than lived there in the past.

Bill Burig, assistant dean for Residence Life, said Trent only remained open this year to smooth the transition for students to the new housing system. He said the West-Edens Link was originally created in part to replace Trent, and he wanted to give upperclassmen more housing options with all rising sophomores on West Campus.

"It was kind of our safeguard to make sure that those students who wanted single rooms and who wanted to stay on campus could. We didn't want to do anything to encourage people to be gone from campus," Burig said. "The Class of 2004 [was] hit pretty hard with the changes."

Juniors in Trent agreed their class "got the shaft" during housing last year and said they looked to Trent to make the best of a bad situation, remaining in blocks with their friends and having single rooms.

"Basically last year was a transition for housing so the juniors really got screwed. But if I did [housing assignments] over again as a senior with priority, I probably wouldn't be here," said Sandip Patel, a junior and Trent resident.

Director of Residence Life and Housing Services Eddy Hull said that now, it is simply not an economically sound idea to keep Trent functioning as a dorm.

"What our experience shows us and what our anticipation would suggest is that there's not sustainable demand that would warrant operating a pretty expensive building," Hull said.

Trent, with its simple brick architecture and space for over 300 students, first opened in the 1950s as housing for graduate students. The dorm began to house undergraduates in the mid-1970s, as the University's undergraduate population grew. Together with two other dorms - Hanes House, now the main building of the School of Nursing, and Hanes Annex, now the John Hope Franklin Center - Trent comprised what was known as North Campus.

Located next to a busy hospital - helipad included - and a major highway, the campus was never a particularly popular location. Hanes Annex closed as a dorm in 1994, and Hanes House followed soon after. Discussions of closing Trent arose several times in the 1990s, but it was not until last summer- when the opening of the West-Edens Link added 350 beds to West Campus - that housing officials were able to pull Trent's plug.

Administrators said they have yet to determine an ultimate use of the building space. Proposals include office space, an extension of the John Hope Franklin Center and extra room for initiatives in the social sciences.

"There are some academic offices that are going in the building but the overall use of the building has not been determined," Burig said.

Students and faculty who live in Trent were not surprised with the official news as they had been forewarned of the closing in the past. Students said they were told Trent will probably shut down before they signed their housing agreements this year, and the faculty-in-residence was told Trent could potentially close when he moved there four years ago.

"When I was appointed in 1999, my letter of appointment said that they might move me to another dorm before my term was up," said John Thompson, the faculty-in-residence in Trent and chair of the history department. "They asked us if we wanted to move to another dorm this year, but we didn't."

Thompson, along with several students, said living in Trent is not as bad as many students who complain about its isolation make it out to be.

"In any normal world at any normal university, no one would think that Trent is far away.... It's not farther away than Edens is from Main West," Thompson said, adding that once a place gets "branded it's hard to shake it."

Students now living in Trent echoed many of their predecessors, pointing to several positive aspects of the dorm, such as larger rooms, the volleyball court and a more quiet atmosphere.

"Parking's a hell of a lot better.... It's no picnic, but it's not as bad as everyone makes it out to be," said Christopher Bermudez, adding that "[Trent can be] too quiet. You get a little stir crazy."

Grace's Cafe - the Trent eatery that caters to students living there, as well as students and faculty from the nearby School of Nursing - is looking into a move next to Uncle Harry's on Central.

"I hope that they will be able to move to another location in the Hospital or Central. They definitely are popular, and a lot of people like to eat there," said junior Laura Melvin. "We are very appreciative they continued to stay in Trent despite the small population."

Patel said Grace's strong customer base will keep it viable.

"I think even if Trent closes down it would still get good patronage from other people," Patel said. "Most of the business comes from the Med Center during lunch."

Many students living in Trent expressed an element of nostalgia toward Trent and a sadness to see its doors close.

"I'm sad in a way, because I have good memories, and I think it's a nice dorm, but I think incorporating everyone closer together will foster a better sense of community," Melvin said.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Residents mourn, celebrate word of Trent closing” on social media.