Consultant aims to improve Central living

The University has hired a consulting agency to help devise ways to improve Central Campus for the next decade or more. But administrators said that does not mean plans for New Campus are stalled indefinitely.

Jane Wright of Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas and Co.-a firm that specializes in consulting and architectural planning-attended the Central Campus Council meeting last Thursday night to gather feedback from students on ways to make Central more livable.

The process for renovating Central Campus had slowed because of the bad economy, Gary Thompson, director of facilities, planning and operations for Residence Life and Housing Services, told students at the meeting. He said the University wanted to brainstorm ways to improve Central for the next 15 years before serious work on New Campus begins.

But even without the current economic downturn, it might have taken eight years for construction on New Campus to begin, said Steve Nowicki, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. With existing economic conditions, the timeframe could be 10 years, he added.

"It's not that New Campus is on hold indefinitely and now we're going to make Central Campus the future," Nowicki said. "If we're talking about a decade or more of use, we really need to think strategically about how to make Central Campus a part of Duke, even if not a permanent part of Duke, and that's where we got some consultants.... At the end of the day, Central Campus will be gone."

Any improvements to Central would have to mesh with existing plans for New Campus, Thompson said at the Thursday meeting. But changes to Central would not be restricted by future plans for New Campus, Thompson and Nowicki said later in interviews. Projects on Central could integrated into plans for New Campus, Nowicki noted.

Nowicki said he is not sure how long it would take the consultants to come back with concrete ideas, but added that he wants to put the process for revitalization on the fast track. Thompson said at Thursday's meeting that he hoped improvements would begin in Fall 2009, but Nowicki said it was premature to say what changes could be in place at that time.

"I would like students who go there in Fall 2009 to look around and say, 'Oh, this place is different,'" Nowicki said. "I'm doing what I can within the realities."

The decision to hire Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas and Co. was made by Thompson based on its reputation and his experience working with the firm at another university, he said. The firm specializes in providing campus planning services and has worked on nearly two dozen projects-from master planning to specific residential projects-with universities across the country, according to the company's Web site.

One of the priorities for Central is to create a community center, Nowicki said. Feedback from Central Campus Council could provide the basis for a survey of all students living on Central, Wright said.

Wright noted that students discussed many issues involving food and transit. The survey could be used to test those issues among a larger group, she said.

Central Campus Council President Tomas Moreno, a senior, said he appreciates the administration's effort to immediately seek student feedback on Central.

"You can't ask for change right away," he said. "I don't think Central necessarily needs to be totally demolished. I'm hoping that what we implement now can stay."

Moreno said he acknowledged that improvements to Central would probably be more dramatic if plans for New Campus did not exist, but added that he thinks the administration is doing its best given the circumstances.

"We had to invest something in [Central]," Nowicki said of the decision to hire consultants. "That something is going to make Central Campus better for a decade."

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