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As semester starts, Campus Life Center construction advances on schedule

The swift demolition of the DUC over the summer laid the groundwork for the rise of Emory’s new Campus Life Center, which will offer more space to connect, recreate and collaborate. (Photo taken Aug. 2, courtesy of Holder Construction)

Blink once. Blink twice. No, you’re not imagining things.

Students returning to Emory this week may have been surprised by what they’re not seeing in the heart of campus: namely, the Dobbs University Center (DUC).

Where the DUC once stood is now a sprawling soilscape — land scraped clean and bare, rubble already hauled away. And its absence has created a yawning void in the university skyline, offering newly opened views of campus buildings from sightlines once obscured.

This summer’s demolition of the DUC was the first step in preparing for construction of a new Campus Life Center (CLC), which is slated to open around summer 2019. The project is a partnership between Emory’s Campus Life and Campus Services.

Plans for the new structure were driven by growing space needs, a desire for more flexible and efficient dining services, and the need for more room for student organizations and gathering spaces, according to Ajay Nair, senior vice president and dean of campus life.

“The CLC is a transformative project and really important to us,” says Nair. “Many of the challenges we face at Emory are related to space, which you need to bring people together. While we do have space, it’s not always functional and it’s not big enough.

“What we’re now creating will be the most welcoming space on campus, with no front door or back door — it’s all open, so you’ll be able to enter from any direction and hopefully feel you are at home at Emory,” he says.

Once completed, the three-story building will cover approximately 115,000 square feet, featuring student lounges and recreational spaces, a campus restaurant with approximately 800 seats and a nearly 1,600-seat multipurpose room.

Although constructing a large building in the heart of a busy campus isn’t without its challenges, “the payoff for the university will be such a dynamic change, in terms of a place for community building, programs and events,” says Ben Perlman, director of the University Center

“It’s going to be incredibly impactful, with a lot more room for students, organizations and spaces to collaborate.”

The rise of the new CLC

Demolition of the DUC began in May, as workers began emptying the once-bustling center, student and campus offices shifted to temporary locations, and student dining moved across the street to an interim location dubbed the DUC-ling.

With the DUC gone, construction plans “are on schedule and proceeding very nicely,” Perlman says. “We’ve worked hard to make sure the community is informed about the project and its goals, and that we’re working to minimize the impact a project of this scope and scale can cause.”

The DUC — also called the “West DUC” or “the Portman Building” after Atlanta architect and developer John Portman, who designed it — opened on campus in 1986. The facility, with its distinctive tiered dining space, connected with the Alumni Memorial University Center (AMUC), built in 1950 to honor campus community members lost at war.

A crucial part of constructing the new CLC involved separating the two buildings earlier this summer, notes Perlman. To protect exterior surfaces of the AMUC, plywood was installed over the original entrance of the historic building and is projected to remain in place until later this year.

Space between the AMUC and the new CLC will eventually be home to a large, open-air courtyard, with trees, grass and casual outdoor seating. The new CLC will feature a restaurant, student meeting spaces and a second-floor recreation lounge, complete with billiards, air hockey and video games.

The DUC demolition represents the largest tear-down of its kind on the Emory campus in recent years, says Al Herzog, Campus Services project manager for planning, design and construction. Within the next week, construction will begin on shoring systems that need to be in place for the installation of rammed aggregate piers (RAPs) that will serve as the foundation of the new CLC. Work to construct the RAPs will begin in September.

Crews will first excavate deep holes, which will be filled with aggregate (small rocks). Next, a pneumatic hammer will be used to compress the rocks tightly together — a process that has to be done onsite. Work crews will remove a few remaining sections of shallow foundation and retaining walls.

Creating the RAPs will take two to three weeks, Herzog says. Once completed, preparations will begin to create a new concrete floor for the building.

Dining in the DUC-ling

This summer, food service shifted to the DUC-ling, an interim dining facility that will serve as a temporary home for student diners during CLC construction over the next two years.

Located in the courtyard between the former DUC and the Woodruff P.E. Center, the 10,000-square-foot facility is a 42-foot-tall tension fabric structure designed for durability, energy efficiency and quick assembly. Modular kitchen units — not unlike temporary classrooms — house food preparation and walk-in refrigeration units that will be used to produce upwards of 3,600 meals a day.

Since students began arriving in advance of orientation and move-in activities, “we’ve already been very busy — but so far, so good,” says Emory Campus Dining Director Chad Sunstein. “On Sunday, we served 1,900 students and parents during the lunch period alone.”

Sunstein reports that student feedback has been positive, “very complimentary of the food service and quality,” he says. “A lot of students have been eager to actually get inside the new facility, and we’re seeing a lot of familiar faces. It seems everyone has been excited and impressed. It’s very different from what we had in Dobbs Market (in the DUC).”

As the semester advances, the Emory community will find more opportunities to engage in planning for the new CLC — from invitations to attend town halls and residence hall meetings about the project to opportunities to offer input about what kinds of information and banner displays will go up on the fencing that surrounds the construction zone.

“We’re still working on the interior design of the space and the audiovisual setup — there will be opportunities to really engage in building it to student needs and interests,” says Perlman.

With public interest in the project running high, Perlman says those who wish to track construction progress are invited to follow along on the CLC project website. There, visitors may sign up to receive a CLC construction newsletter, review frequently-asked-questions and construction progress on a live webcam mounted near McDonough Field.

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