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A New Vision for West Union Building

A New Vision for West Union Building

Plans promise expanded dining and student space, but renovations will mean temporary disruptions on West Campus

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Durham, NC - Duke administrators presented Thursday a portrait of a renovated West Union Building that will turn the eight-decade old building into a facility with a modern infrastructure, expanded dining capabilities and featuring commons and office space that will re-energize this space into the center of student life it was originally intended to be.

The transformation is expected to take 16-18 months of significant disruption in the heart of Duke's West Campus.

Currently, West Union serves 6,000 meals a day and provides important student space, in particular the Mary Lou Williams Center and the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life. Priority right now for administrators is drawing up plans for where the diners, student centers and other services will go.

"That's a lot of people to feed [during renovation]," said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III, speaking to the Academic Council.  "We're looking at alternatives now." This includes a new building to be constructed adjacent to the Bryan Center to be built before the West Union renovations begin. This new building will serve as the interim dining facility, and then be converted to much needed gathering space after West Union reabsorbs the dining functions.

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, said he was working with student groups to determine quarters for the new centers and to plan for their future.

"Those centers are important occupants and [finding quality spaces is] a high priority," Moneta said. "Groups of faculty, administrators and students are thinking about the roles for the centers and what kind of space they will need to serve those roles."

The renovation will turn West Union into the kind of space that will promote student engagement and collaboration in a way the current building has never been able to, Moneta said.  The concepts of shared spaces that are at the heart of the university's new housing system will also drive planning for the renovated facility.

"We want students sitting in West Union, eating together, engaged in conversation with others," Moneta said.  "At the same time we need to build capacity to meet future needs.  We expect to need to serve 10,000 meals in the future.  Currently there are 600 seats throughout the building at all dining facilities.  We're projecting having 900-1,000 seats."

He added that he expects renovation to rationalize the design of a building that lacks a central plan.  "If you have a sense of where the front and back door to West Union currently is, I'd appreciate it if you would let us know."

Renovations will also bring West Union into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Trask said preliminary estimates are the renovation will cost around $50 million, with much of the funding coming from a gift from The Duke Endowment.

Trask said architects are being interviewed on Feb. 14.  The current expectation is construction will begin in summer 2013.

As plans progress, updated information will be placed on the West Union renovation website.

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