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New Ocean Center opens at Beaufort

The long-overdue Marguerite Kent Repass Ocean Conservation Center at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C.--which has been in the planning stages since the early 1990s--opened its doors to students Monday.

In addition to gaining new teaching facilities with tele- and video-conferencing capabilities, "green" technology, a large glass-enclosed cafe and other perks, students will also benefit from a new director who hopes to take the center-and the campus-to new heights.

Taking over for Mike Orbach, DUML's previous head, is Cindy Van Dover, who was appointed July 26.

Van Dover was previously a faculty member at the College of William & Mary, specializing in the study of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and chemosynthetic communities.

The new director, however, is no stranger to Duke's marine lab--she served as a Mary Derrickson McCurdy visiting scholar at the lab in the late 1990s.

"The great strength of the marine lab is conservation science policy--we will continue to grow that strength but we will also be building on other strengths," she said.

Orbach will remain on the faculty as a professor of the practice of marine affairs and policy, instructing Marine Policy, the center's largest class.

Van Dover, who described herself as a "forward-thinking scientist," hopes to bring the field of molecular science to the marine lab in order to study a molecular approach to conservation.

A molecular science center is only one of the exciting ventures Van Dover will outline in a comprehensive academic plan for the next six to eight months.

"Long term, I'd really like to deliver the best undergraduate and graduate professional degree program so we can prepare students for the needs of a country in terms of marine science conservation and policy," she said.

Van Dover also emphasized a focus on the needs of students, not just researchers--a philosophy that is evident in the new center's three main spaces: a 48-person lecture hall, a high-tech teaching lab and a large, glass-enclosed commons area looking out over the Beaufort Channel, she said.

Isel Del Valle, a junior and one of the 20 undergraduates currently studying at Beaufort, experienced these facilities first-hand Monday.

"It's pretty well equipped to do interesting technological things--like yesterday [Orbach's class] had a video conference with another class," Del Valle said. "The collaboration you can do with that is great."

Van Dover added that one of her goals is to make the island a model for "green," or environmentally friendly, technology--starting with the new center.

The OCC was awarded a Platinum rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System for its use of environmentally-friendly technology.

Although more than 500 buildings have been LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, fewer than 30 have achieved the stringent and coveted Platinum rating since the program's inception in 2000.

Buildings considered for LEED certification must earn points in five categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.

The OCC design emphasizes cross-ventilation, solar electricity and easy access to the building's water and electrical systems so that walls do not have to be ripped apart and reconstructed.

In addition, the building boasts a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses the natural heat of the earth to regulate the building's temperature, cisterns to collect rainwater for landscaping and toilets as well as recycled and local construction materials.

"It's really important for the Nicholas School and Duke University to set the standard for the rest of the public in terms of trying to figure how to do what we do in a way that treads more lightly on the resources of the earth," said Larry Crowder, Stephen Toth Professor of Marine Biology, who has been teaching at the Marine Lab for 11 years. "It's important to show that it can be done-produce a useful building on a beautiful site with a reasonably low cost."

After the lengthy planning process, administrators wasted no time in allowing students and faculty to use the center-even if some details still need to be finalized.

"We've only had one class in there so far but it's nice, it still smells like a new building," Del Valle said. "They are still not completely done though--they're still waiting on new carpet in the main lecture room."

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