N.C. Central University plans to open a center for students on the northern edge of campus next school year, its artful design meant to serve as a gateway to campus — the first glimpse of the HBCU for many coming off the highway.
The building, which will cost over $3.5 million, was designed by the Durham firm Evoke Studio Architecture.
“It is a 24/7 facility that’s open to students,” architect Brittany Eaker Kirkland told members of Durham’s Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday.
The heart of the 24/7 Collaborative Learning and Research Center, as it’s being called, is the large shaded porch beneath the dramatic canopy roof.
“This blurring of indoor and outdoor space harkens back to the welcoming and inclusive front porches of the residences adjacent to the center,” the architecture firm wrote to the Durham City-County Planning Department.
The space will be open at all hours for students to study and gather. It’s being built with Eagle colors with red brick and dark gray metal trim.
It will be located on the northwest corner of Fayetteville and Lawson streets, the opposite side of campus from the vast $55 million student center finished in December.
Because it sits in the Fayetteville Street Historic District, the Historic Preservation Commission had to weigh its merit. The board unanimously voted in its favor Tuesday.
“It’s not a massive structure. It is a single-story structure,” Eaker Kirkland said of the 4,900-square-foot building. “We’re not trying to max out and create a building that is out of scale with the neighborhood in that way.”
The project will bring nearby residents some flooding relief, as it includes plans to replace the water main and upgrade the line extending down Lawson Street.
“There are a lot of existing flooding issues in this area and that was a recurrent theme in our neighborhood meetings,” Eaker Kirkland said. “All the adjacent residences that had any kind of slope or basement level, they would flood every time it would rain.”
Tad DeBerry, who sits on the Historic Preservation Commission and voted for the project, said it was a shame two historic single-family homes once on the site were torn down.
“It is a pattern of the university to remove historic elements of its community from the historic district to build new structures,” DeBerry said. “The continuing disregard by the university using state funds to degrade the historic district is sad.”
University spokesman Stephen Fusi said the design concept was careful to mix traditional characteristics of the neighborhood in with more modern elements.
“NCCU looks at maintaining the character of the campus and serving the needs of 21st century students while welcoming the surrounding community,“ Fusi told The News & Observer.
The university has worked with Evoke before, including on an award-winning redesign of the school’s television studio.
“We look for designers who are invested in the Durham community. Evoke Studio Architecture is a local Durham firm and the concepts they presented demonstrated an understanding of the history and purpose of the structures in the university’s neighborhood,” Fusi said.
The Board of Trustees approved the design last April, and later agreed to up the budget to $3,555,000 from the $3 million initially planned.
Next, the project must be submitted to the state for construction code review. Crews are expected to get to work in September. The end of 2023 is targeted for completion.