Initial student center plans unveiled

The University has released tentative plans for space allocation in the West Campus Student Center and is now looking for an architect to design the central plaza, which administrators hope will create a cohesive whole out of the West Union Building, the Bryan Center and other surrounding buildings.

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta stressed the flexibility of the plans, which note possible placements of student organizations and social recreation space, campus life and advising services, conference and meeting space, performance space, food service, retail service and administrative offices.

"None of the assignments of space are fixed," Moneta said. "All we've done is some conceptual thinking."

The plaza will be the first project, followed by renovations to the West Union Building and then the Bryan Center. In the most recent plans, the plaza is comprised of an upper and a lower level, which connect the West Union Building and the Bryan Center and extend into the area by what is currently the Gothic Bookshop and the University Store. The plaza could be the size of a football field.

"The plaza is the one thing we can do that doesn't disrupt the rest of the buildings because it doesn't involve renovations or relocating anything," Moneta said. "More importantly, the need for a large gathering area is paramount. The BC Walkway, of all the elements of the student center, is the least attractive and the least useful. We want to create an outdoor living room that connects campus."

Moneta said there will be multiple entries onto the plaza, helping to create a sense that it is a central gathering place.

He also noted other possibilities for student gathering space, such as a block on the ground floor of the West Union Building between the alumni lounge and the building entrance.

"A possibility is to open up that entire part of the building, take out the walls and create a substantial student lounge or lobby," Moneta said.

In addition to focusing on the plaza first, administrators will look into the creation of a service core in the West Union with such essential elements as elevators and bathrooms. "We'll think about the building core to frame future thinking about West Union," Moneta said. The plaza and West Union phases of the project could take between three and five years.

The tentative plans for the student center show some food services moving into the current location of the Duke Textbook Store, the Gothic Bookstore and the University Store.

"One thought was that we could consolidate dining in the Bryan Center where the bookstore is currently because it gives us both inside and outside seating options," Moneta said, noting how the new arrangement would put the food services abutting the extended lower plaza.

He also noted the distant possibility of creating an extension of the plaza that would allow easy access to the main plaza from the Chapel Quadrangle and might allow the Great Hall to spill outside as well.

He said, however, that planning for the Bryan Center is still some seven years down the road, and the construction of a plaza near the Great Hall will not happen within the decade, if at all.

"That's just fantasy thinking, if we ever find the resources and if there's an interest," he said. Planning for the Bryan Center is contingent on the relocation of the bookstore, which Moneta said does not fall under Student Affairs.

Moneta noted a number of other possible plans for the West Union Building and the Bryan Center, which he said the University is toying with but which are far from set.

For example, the next five years may see an expansion of the back of the West Union Building to include more space for retail service. The area containing the student mailboxes could turn into a large activities center once construction is underway on the Bryan Center.

A media center could possibly be located where the greenhouse is currently, although Moneta stressed that these plans, too, will have to be considered and reconsidered at a later date.

The former Hideaway space has been marked for food service in the newest plans, but Moneta said it is unclear what will be done with the space.

"Once a plaza wraps around the back of the Great Hall, it's possible to think of connecting the Hideaway to the Great Hall," he said. "Right now it's still wide open for options."

Moneta will be meeting with numerous student groups--including Campus Council, the Duke Student Government, the Duke University Union, the Graduate and Professional Student Council and various cultural groups--throughout this semester and into the next. He will also host open town meetings--anything to get students' opinions on the tentative plans.

"I may just sit outside the Bryan Center with the plan boards and let people come by and give me ideas," he said.

Meanwhile, however, Moneta and other administrators are working on securing an architect to design the plaza, with the goal of presenting a design to the Board of Trustees for approval in December. Moneta said he hopes to have chosen an architect within the next couple of weeks.

If all goes well, Moneta said the goal is to begin construction this summer.


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