Epworth to convert for profs

The University will likely turn Epworth Residence Hall into an academic swing space that would temporarily house departments during renovations of their permanent spaces.

Although plans are not final, the new East Campus dorm, which opens in August, will allow Residence Life and Housing Services to find rooms for all incoming freshmen.

Bell Tower Residence Hall, currently under construction, will house 138 beds—more than enough to accommodate Epworth residents and 50 additional freshmen when the Pratt School of Engineering expands its class size this fall.

George McLendon, dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences, said Epworth was “scheduled to come out of dorm-dom” this year. Given the schedule of impending renovations, the Department of Literature will likely occupy the space next year.

The University has long planned to renovate several of the academic buildings on East Campus. When the Duke University Museum of Art moved out, the building jumped to the top of the renovations list.

The former museum lacks modern amenities such as wireless Internet access, and some of its piping is outdated. Because of the extent of the necessary renovations, the literature department—which occupies much of the building’s first floor—must temporarily move.

Officials considered several options of where to temporarily place the department, but Epworth emerged as the leading venue.

Because of the dorm’s small size—only 52 people live there—the building could be completely converted into office space. Other East Campus residence halls hold about 100 people, and the University would need to continue housing freshmen in some of the rooms, creating split-purpose buildings.

“I don’t know that having the building split up like that would be the best possible community for the hall,” said Chris Ellis, residence coordinator for Epworth. “Also, I don’t know that it would be the best possible community for the department either.”

Splitting a building between academic and dormitory use would also create security problems. Residence halls limit access by using card swipes, but most office space is open access.

“It just wouldn’t be a secure space—mostly for the residents,” Ellis said.

Current Epworth residents learned of the University’s likely plans Monday night at a house meeting when students began to ask questions about the dorm’s future. Joe Gonzalez, associate dean of Residence Life and Housing Services, will meet with residents tonight to answer further questions.

Officials are unsure whether Epworth would be used as a dorm again after the literature department moves into its newly renovated space.

“The plan is that it’s going to be a residence hall again, but I don’t know when that would be decided for sure,” Gonzalez said. “There would probably be discussions that need to occur when the literature department is ready to leave about whether that is what is appropriate for the building.”

Epworth, one of the oldest dorms on East, needs extensive infrastructure upgrades, such as new plumbing.

McLendon said the University might have a need for permanent academic swing space, and Epworth would serve that need well.

So far, however, RLHS has planned for Epworth to continue as a dormitory.

Bell Tower was built large enough to allow RLHS some “wiggle room” when assigning housing, Gonzalez said. But the size assumed the 52 beds in Epworth would still exist.

RLHS also recognized the notoriously tight community that Epworth creates, and Gonzalez said any changes would stem from University needs rather than a desire to eliminate Epworth.

“It seems to work very well as a residence hall because the community that has been forming there has been great,” he said.


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