Renovations Increase Student Opportunities

November 14, 2008

In room 116, sophomores with Wii remotes strapped to their heads are jumping off chairs, being pushed in chairs or just plain walking past chairs and lab benches. In this BME110 Introduction to Biomechanics course, students are using the accelerometers in the remotes to measure the movements of everyday life.

Not only is this the first time this activity has been used in a lab, it is one of the first times this brand new lab has been used.

This lab is one of the first visible outcomes of a renovation program that began early this summer on three floors of the Teer Building. Across Research Drive in the Coal Pile building, existing and new machine tools have been consolidated in a central location. Taken together, those two projects account for almost 20,000 new square feet of needed space.

Room 116 is located on the first floor of Teer. It, as well as another general laboratory, a 50-seat auditorium, conference room, librarian’s office and common lounge area, opened up days before the start of the new semester. The renovations to floors two and three should be complete in December, according to Mike Gunter, associate dean for facilities and infrastructure.

“The driving force all summer was getting the first floor completed before the start of the new school year,” Gunter said. “While at times it has been a challenge keeping the ball rolling, everything is still on schedule.”

The second floor will contain three large general purpose project laboratories like those on the first floor, as well as an information commons, telepresence suite and seminar rooms. Lawrence Boyd, associate director of Duke’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization (CERC), believes that another area nestled within the new-look second floor will appeal to a certain breed of students.

“We’re calling it the DUHatch, a place where entrepreneurial students can meet and interact with other students, faculty, staff and outside guests brought in for their expertise in starting new businesses,” Boyd said. “This will be a more formalized space for mentoring, meeting venture capitalists or outside business associates or collaborators. If you want to be an entrepreneur and start a business or social venture, it would be ideal to be working in a space dedicated to those types of activities, and not necessarily in a dorm room.”

Boyd expects the facility to be operational by the start of the next semester.

The third floor will house the dean’s office, as well as staff from the development and education offices.

Steve Earp with students in the machine shopThe opening of the new student machine shop has already turned into a boon for students and faculty alike. For students, all the machine tools are centrally located and there are more of them. And because Steve Earp, the newly hired manager of the student shop, is on site all day, faculty members do not have to chaperone students in their classes.

According to Earp, the shop is already quite popular with students.

“We’re busy running students through our safety classes, and many of them are already fabricating parts for various projects,” Earp said. “So far, the milling machines have been the big hit. In the past there was only one machine, so there was a lot of waiting. Now, with three, things are moving much more smoothly.”

While there is still some organizational and cosmetic work to be done in the shop, all the machine tools are in and operational. Before using any of the machine tools, students must complete a safety training course taught by Earp. Students can learn more about the shop’s capabilities or sign up for times on line (

“I will always be in the shop to offer advice or help students use a particular piece of equipment or answer any of their questions,” Earp said.

While the added space is relieving pressures on students and faculty alike, Gunter says that Pratt still needs an additional 200,000 square feet of space to accommodate future growth. This will come in the form of the Engineering Design Center (EDC), a concept that has received approval from the Duke Board of Trustees to begin site selection work.

The next big challenge for the EDC is finding space for it.

“We obviously want to be close to the engineering campus, and while six possible sites have been identified, no one site can accommodate all 200,000 square feet,” Gunter said. “So there will have to be more than one building.”

The Pratt School of Engineering Board of Visitors will soon review recommendations for the sites for the EDC, which will contain such items as high-tech undergraduate classrooms and a 200-seat auditorium like the existing Schiciano Auditorium.