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From the ruins of central

Somewhere between the Gothic Wonderland of West and the Georgian grandeur of East sits Central Campus, a collection of austere apartment blocks dotting the CCX bus route. So unremarkable is Central that apocryphally, a Duke administrator is said to have remarked: “Central Campus isn’t a campus and [isn’t] really central to anything.” On Wednesday, The Chronicle shed light on renovation plans for Central Campus, whose future remained a mystery amidst the ubiquitous construction on East and West. By the summer of 2019, Central will cease to house students, leaving its future within the university unclear. Today, we turn to the campus often forgotten between its more glamorous neighbors to envision a new housing model that will hopefully arise from the ruins of Central.

Home to about 1000 students, 26 houses and 23 selected living groups, Central has a complicated history. Despite its recent surge in popularity among its predominantly Greek or SLG-affiliated population, the campus lacks the structural integrity and architectural grandeur of other residential spaces, with a recent past rife with maintenance issues. Well publicized instances of bat infestations, leaky pipes, ceiling collapses and frequent reports of mold have highlighted the many pressing problems surrounding Central’s infrastructure. Whether black mold actually exists on the campus or not, all of these concerns coupled with security problems over the last few years contribute to a sense that—to echo the sentiment of administrators—the campus was simply not built to last this long.

Any prior plans to redevelop Central were forgone during preliminary stages. The proposed revamping of Central in 2000 emphasized open, green spaces in place of apartment blocks. This “New Campus” was to house numerous arts, humanities, international programs and living-learning communities. Renovations and construction would have granted our departments and programs in language, film, dance and theater spaces with the latest technology, creating a unified academic village that would serve as a true conduit between East and West. However, the 2008 recession’s effects on the university endowment derailed plans for the New Campus, giving the administration a chance to reevaluate its plans.

Now, new plans include demolition and a range of possibilities for new construction. Given the integral role Central has played in on-campus housing, Duke is on the precipice of large-scale, long-term changes to the housing model. While Central is predominantly affiliated, its absence will have huge impacts on independent housing. Conversations about independent housing have long been relegated to residential life, student government and administrative meetings; with grand, impending changes to the campus, open discussions are a necessity. When students are relocated from Greek and SLG sections to West Campus, a new, integrated housing model is definitely on the table.

As students move from Central to West, Duke should consider a shift from the current segmented house-based model to a residential college system wherein the West campus quads function as independent communities, not unlike East Campus. The current housing model on West lacks the “dense and vibrant community” Duke hopes to foster and peer institutions like Rice and Yale have found success with a residential college system. While this new system would complicate membership in affiliated groups, the presence of these groups and a new system with no affiliated housing are not mutually exclusive. Duke’s administration should work with student groups both affiliated and independent to build a new housing model that optimizes the living experience for most people. Given the immense changes in Duke’s campus infrastructure being planned,  students who want their voices heard should demand a spot at the table.


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