Changes for Central Campus


Duke's Central Campus

Jim Wallace.

Central Campus is neither central nor a campus, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask likes to say. Now, Duke officials are planning to turn that space into something more true to its name.

Speaking before the Academic Council in March, Trask and Provost Peter Lange said they and other planners are proceeding with caution. They showed several maps to illustrate broadly what might happen but emphasized that no actual planning maps yet exist. They said subcommittees are meeting to look at issues such as housing and dining; academic programs; recreational and meeting space; transportation, parking, and security; and community relations.

Trask said the project's first phase will focus on residential housing, primarily for senior undergraduates and some graduate students. This phase, which officials hope to complete by the fall of 2007, also is likely to include offices and classrooms for a few core academic programs, as well as performance, retail, and recreational space.

Although Phase One will develop only about 10 percent of the project's total space, Trask and Lange said it would begin transforming what they hope will become a vibrant intellectual and residential space for Duke as a whole.

"Central Campus is a large block of land, roughly equal to that of West Campus," Trask said. "Ultimately, we have about 6 million square feet to work with. This is going to be a big project, not one that any of us will finish. Right now, the important thing is to get the first steps done right."

He and Lange said the planning involves not only architecture and infrastructure, but also deeper questions about student life and Duke's academic mission. The immediate need is to replace residential buildings that are coming to the end of their lifespan, Trask said. But students who live there also say they feel isolated from the rest of the university, and the Central Campus Planning Committee noted in a recent report that the area offers "a wonderful opportunity for Duke to transform the physical and conceptual spaces of the institution."

Planners say the campus should be a place with a distinctive identity where a combination of residential, recreational, academic, and retail space attracts students--an "academic village." "In our vision, Central Campus will be an urban rather than a suburban experience," said Lange, who co-chairs the planning committee with Kemel Dawkins, vice president for campus services. "We don't want a place where people sleep at night and get up and leave during the day. Instead, we want activities throughout the day that will hold them there and bring in others from the university and community. Academic programs will play an important part in the planning." Proposals have included moving foreign-language departments, international programs, and the John Hope Franklin Center and Institute to the campus, although no decisions have been made, Lange said.

Lange said he hoped the campus could provide a "capstone" residential experience for undergraduate seniors similar to the experience first-year students now have on East Campus. "Our great anxiety is whether we can make this attractive enough to bring in seniors. I think we can do it."

At the council meeting, faculty members asked about community reaction to the planning, noting that some community members have expressed concern that new commercial development might harm nearby businesses on Ninth Street. Administrators responded by saying there has been a misunderstanding about how far along Duke's planning process actually is. "We have to acknowledge a level of distrust," Lange said. "Some of this comes from some news releases that suggested that we are a lot farther along than we are. Some of this comes from the fact we are a large institution with our own interests. We have tried to dispel these concerns."

"We are not interested in bringing another Southpoint to the area," he added, referring to a large local mall. "We are not interested in 'big box' stores. We don't want a Gap. I think that as these discussions about retail stores continue, the more open we are, the more we'll ease the community concerns."

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