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'Tunnel Tours': Duke opens up East Campus tunnels for Senior Giving Challenge

Courtesy of Mike Snyder
Courtesy of Mike Snyder

Want to tour the tunnels before graduation? Seniors who donated to the Annual Fund will have the opportunity to do just that this week.

Long a forbidden realm for curious students, the East Campus tunnels will briefly open their doors this week for tours as part of the Senior Giving Challenge. All seniors who had donated by April 10 to the Duke Annual Fund were eligible to sign up for 100 spots on the tours, which will take place twice per day and run from April 15 to April 19. 

Senior Charlie Pearlman, who sent the email about the tunneling opportunity to the Class of 2019, explained that the prospect of exploring the tunnels had sparked interest among students. Exploring the tunnels—which were built in the mid-1920s and run for slightly less than a mile—has been called one of Duke's five unofficial graduation requirements.

"I have noticed a lot of buzz about the event so far," Pearlman wrote in an email to The Chronicle. "Several people sent me screenshots of the email I sent out announcing the opportunity—they all seemed pretty stoked for it."

Pearlman explained that the idea came about when he was talking to Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, about potential "culminating experiences" for the Class of 2019. From there, they reached out to John Noonan, vice president for facilities, and the Duke Annual Fund coordinated with the facilities management department to work out the logistics.

"Tunnel tours was one idea that we thought would encourage class camaraderie and serve as a 'thank you' to the seniors who have decided to donate to Duke," Pearlman wrote. 

Mike Snyder, safety manager in the facilities management department, said that this is the first time he could recall that the tunnels were opened for student tours.

Students going on the tour will take an abbreviated version of the tunnel training class normally offered to new employees and will be required to sign a waiver prior to entry, Snyder added. Two tour guides will then lead the seniors—who must wear hard hats and safety glasses—from the East Campus Steam Plant, located near Smith Warehouse, to Baldwin Auditorium, where the tour will end.

The subterranean passageways are traditionally off-limits to students due to the dangerous steam and plumbing infrastructure they house, Snyder explained to The Chronicle last fall. 

Nevertheless, that warning has not kept some students from exploring the tunnels as an unofficial tradition.

Sue Wasiolek, dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs, told The Chronicle last fall that typically two to four students were caught per year in the tunnels.

She explained that number has been reduced from the peak tunneling years—the 1980s and 1990s—thanks to increased security measures, such as adding security cameras.

Pearlman noted that, as of last Monday, more than half of the senior class have donated as part of the challenge, and the numbers may continue to rise with the rare opportunity to get an official tour of the tunnels.

"We’re having a great response from seniors—52% of the Class of 2019 has donated!" he wrote. "I can’t say whether or not donations have come in as a direct result of the tunnel tours, but I’m sure that is helping to increase awareness about the senior giving campaign."   


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