A New Look for a Historic Campus

Landmark structures at Duke undergo first major renovations since 1924

Renovations of Baldwin Auditorium on East Campus include extending balcony seating along the sides of the auditorium and enlarging the stage. Photo courtesy of C. Ray Walker.
Renovations of Baldwin Auditorium on East Campus include extending balcony seating along the sides of the auditorium and enlarging the stage. Photo courtesy of C. Ray Walker.

Along Duke's nearly 100-year-old performance venue on East Campus, construction crews dug mounds of dirt to excavate about 20 feet into the earth.

After the ground was clear, giant concrete walls rose, creating space to house an upgraded air conditioning system that will offer a new level of comfort in Baldwin Auditorium: air from 40,000 small holes will seep from the stage to cool performers.

The renovation of Baldwin Auditorium is just one new project Duke is undertaking to move toward the future, while preserving its rich history. In the next few years, it'll be more present than ever across campus, as pockets of construction take hold and fresh-looking brick, mortar and glass structures rise from the ground. After several years, Duke is once again in a building boom.

"In my office, I have a photo of the construction of West Campus with the railroad tracks bringing in materials," said President Richard H. Brodhead.  "It's a reminder that wonderful work done in the past created the scene for our present activities, and that we in turn need to keep building and renovating to provide for the Duke of the future." 

Three years ago, Duke spent $190 million on 130 construction or renovation projects, including renovation of the East Campus Steam Plant and Smith Warehouse.

Toward the end of the economic downturn, spending dropped to $80 million. As Duke continues to emerge from the Great Recession, construction work across campus is supported by outside donations, including last year's $80 million gift from The Duke Endowment, the largest single philanthropic gift in the university's history and in the Endowment's 87 years.

The 2012-13 capital budget includes $255 million for major projects to enhance Duke's campus and buildings, including landmark structures like Baldwin Auditorium and the West Union. Baldwin and West Union, which will be remade with funding from the endowment gift, are part of the original campus construction that began following benefactor James B. Duke's creation of both the Endowment and the university in 1924. In addition, Duke will build its first large-scale reclamation pond, a project originally outlined in Duke's architectural master plan from the mid-1920s.

West Campus Steam Plant

reclamation pond
New windows are just one of many changes to the West Campus Steam Plant.

Once covered with black soot and dark grime, the 83-year-old brick inside the West Campus Steam Plant looks like it was laid yesterday. Bright red after pressure washing, the brick is one major aesthetic transformation as Duke converts the former coal-burning plant to natural gas. The West Campus Steam Plant, built in 1928, will fully function in May 2013.

The 30,785-square-foot plant will assist the East Campus Steam Plant with providing steam to sterilize surgical hospital equipment, maintain proper humidity for art and lab research and heat campus and medical buildings across Duke.

The work is an important part of Duke's movement toward carbon neutrality by 2024 - the main goal when President Richard H. Brodhead signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007.

"By next summer, we'll have had the first year that Duke did not use coal on campus," said Tavey Capps, Duke's sustainability director. "We're excited to see the impact of this sustainability initiative when we update the campus greenhouse gas inventory this fall."

Aside from sustainable purposes, renovations at the West Campus plant include a modern facelift. Nearly 100 windows have been replaced, allowing light to flood inside for the first time in decades. In the boiler room, two smokestacks - 152 feet and 165 feet tall - were decommissioned and slowly deconstructed with the transition to natural gas.

"No more coal at Duke," said Floyd Williams, the project manager for the West Campus Steam Plant.

Baldwin Auditorium

When Ray Walker stands on the partially constructed stage in Baldwin Auditorium, he can point to a spot, where, nearly half a century ago, he sat as a member of his high school concert band.

Forty-seven years after the performance with his Hillsborough schoolmates, Walker is overseeing a $15 million renovation that will modernize the 85-year-old auditorium for a whole new generation of performers and patrons.

"It's kind of surreal," said Walker, staff architect and project manager with Duke's Facilities Management Department "I never would have imagined that so many years later, I would be leading a project to renovate this grand space."

The $80 million gift from the Duke Endowment will help fund the first major renovation of Baldwin Auditorium, the focal point of Duke's East Campus and the primary rehearsal and performance venue for numerous student ensembles, including the Duke Symphony Orchestra, wind symphony and jazz ensemble.

Baldwin's stage - where Walker once performed - is part of the transformation. The depth of the stage will double from its original size, stretching 40 feet toward the audience. That change, coupled with extending balcony seating from rear-only to seating that wraps around the walls and nearly hangs over the stage, will reduce overall capacity from 900 to 700 seats. These changes give Baldwin a more intimate theater experience seen in many modern theaters, including the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Upgrades to lighting and acoustics will allow for the space to be "tuned" to each individual performance, making sure musical notes carry to every corner of Baldwin, and a drum's bass to each seat.

"The new acoustics will be a great enhancement to the performances we present in Baldwin, whether it's a string quartet, a solo piano recital or a large orchestra," said Scott Lindroth, professor of music and vice provost for the arts at Duke. "We are thrilled by the prospect of being able to present student ensembles, faculty performers and other professional musicians in a hall that will truly do justice to the music."

West Union

The West Union will be part of upcoming changes to campus.

In an ambitious project involving a campus landmark facility, Duke is taking on a multi-stage process to transform the West Campus Union Building, renovate the Bryan Center and construct a brand new building adjacent to the Bryan Center known as the Events Pavilion.

The West Union project is the centerpiece of the renovations and is supported by the Duke Endowment gift. The work is expected to turn the West Union back into the principal student "living room" and eating space - the center of student life it was for more than 50 years prior to the opening of the Bryan Center in 1982.

Beginning in September, work will begin on the Events Pavilion, a 25,000-square-foot building with Duke stone adorning the outside of a lower level and a main level encased in a unique glass design. The Events Pavilion will serve as temporary space for dining facilities during work at West Union, and later will be opened up to become meeting and event space. Once the Events Pavilion is complete, the renovation of West Union will begin. Work on the West Union is expected to begin in August 2013 and finish in the summer of 2015.

When completed, renovations to the Bryan Center and Flowers Building will enhance and permanently accommodate student leadership organizations, student support centers and administrative services previously housed in the West Union or adjacent buildings.

"The Pavilion, West Union and Bryan Center projects will tremendously improve many aspects of the Duke student experience as well as campus life for faculty, staff and guests," said Larry Moneta, vice president for Student Affairs. "When completed, students will enjoy a premiere dining experience and outstanding program and event facilities."

For more information about the renovations, visit sites.duke.edu/westunion.

Water reclamation pond

reclamation pond
A computer-generated model shows the reclamation pond, which will collect rainwater andrunoff from 22 percent of the main campus area.

As the West Union receives a facelift on one side of campus, a new destination will be built in the spring of 2013 between Erwin Road and Circuit Drive near Towerview Road.

Duke's first large-scale water reclamation pond will sit on a 12-acre site and will include a pavilion, bridge, boardwalk, walking paths and amphitheater with lawn seating. The pond holds a special place when it comes to Duke construction; it was part of the original master plan of the university's landscape in the 1920s but never built.

The $9 million initiative, which will take a year to complete, is a significant sustainable step, given that Duke is the largest water customer in Durham and the project will save millions of gallons of potable water a year.

Once operational, the pond will collect rainwater and runoff from 22 percent of the main campus area. At standing capacity, the pond will hold about 23 million gallons of water at an 8- to 12-foot depth.

Instead of using water from the city of Durham's drinking water supply, Duke will pump water from the six-acre pond to one of Duke's nearby chilled water plants to produce chilled water for cooling and dehumidifying campus and medical buildings.

"There are financial benefits for us because we'll save water and money, but it's also a city benefit," said Steve Palumbo, energy manager for Facilities Management. "It's by far one the most significant sustainable projects we're working on."