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Pratt expansion looks likely

The expansion of the Pratt School of Engineering by 50 undergraduate students per class, once only a distant goal, now seems to be on the fast-track to approval.

After discussing the issue at length during its sub-committee meetings in May, the Board of Trustees is expected to bring the expansion to vote at its October meeting.

Within four years of implementation, the move would boost total undergraduate enrollment from just above 6,400 students to over 6,600. The increase would likely come into effect in Fall 2004, just as the $97 million Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering Medicine and Applied Sciences, currently under construction, opens.

Expansion would require the building of a new 100- to 130-bed dormitory on East Campus, alleviating space concerns in other freshman dorms where some large singles have been converted to doubles and some large doubles into triples to accommodate large freshman classes.

The main impetus for the expansion is the creation of CIEMAS, the cornerstone of Pratt Vision 2010, a strategic plan for the school that also calls for the increase in undergraduate enrollment from its current 907.

The increase would also help alleviate Arts & Sciences' budget woes, which are projected to continue for at least the next few years. Because Pratt students also take classes and utilize other resources in Trinity College, Arts & Sciences receives 50 percent of each engineering student's tuition.

President Nan Keohane and outgoing Board Chair Harold "Spike" Yoh said during the Board's Graduation Weekend visit to campus that the sub-committees' May meetings set the stage for a swift approval in October.

"What we try to do in the meeting before something comes to a big vote is try to air it to get a complete consensus and to know what kind of additional information is needed, because you've got a building and grounds thing, you've got a finance thing, you have an academic thing," Yoh said. "Everything ties in to something along those lines and you've got to consider all the different alternatives."

Keohane said the Board is trying to get committees like Buildings and Grounds and Business and Finance to start planning for such projects earlier in the process. In May, B & G and B & F discussed Pratt expansion in length, and the Student Affairs and Academic Affairs committees held a joint session to weigh the expansion's impact on student life.

"The Board is rightly quite protective of the quality of undergraduate student life... so when this idea first came up a couple years ago, a number of the Trustees said, 'Wait you're really going to have to prove this to us because we don't want the wonderful quality of the Duke undergraduate experience to change and - even adding 200 students - to show us what that would mean,'" Keohane said.

She added that when CIEMAS opens, Pratt will be able to accommodate the 200 additional students with appropriate academic and research facilities and faculty without changing the quality of their experience.

"We're going to make sure that things like building a new dormitory on East is not going to diminish the quality of everyone else's experience," Keohane said. "In the long run it's going to work out."

Administrators have been discussing possible locations for the new freshman dorm. Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said the layout of Blackwell and Randolph dormitories - the newest buildings on East - would seem to suggest adding a third, similarly-shaped building to create a quadrangle. However, the new dorm would probably instead run behind Randolph toward Broad Street, although plans are still preliminary. Trask added that a new pedestrian pathway toward Ninth Street - complete with a large welcome arch - could accompany the dorm.

It is still unknown how the additional 150 upperclass students would impact housing on West and Central campuses. Trask said the new residents could necessitate an additional dormitory on West - perhaps in the wooded area on Towerview Road between Card Gym Lot and the Sanford Institute for Public Policy - or they could be absorbed into the apartments in the new Central Campus.