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Duncan Student Center aims to enhance student life on campus

| Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a three-part series featuring the completed Campus Crossroads project. Today’s story focuses on the enhancements to student life resulting from the creation of the Duncan Student Center.

In addition to upgrades to Notre Dame Stadium, the Campus Crossroads project will affect day-to-day student life — particularly with the complete opening of the Duncan Student Center, a new center of student recreational activity on campus, in January 2018.

This aspect of the project, which vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding said was 20 years in the making for the University, will house several services that are being relocated to the new building, such as the career center and office of residential life.

Duncan Student Center, set to open in January 2018, features new restaurants, a new recreation center and a ballroom to be used for student events, but also available to the public for booking.Chris Collins | The Observer

Duncan Student Center, set to open in January 2018, features new restaurants, a new recreation center and a ballroom to be used for student events, but also available to the public for booking.

Among the hospitality space located within Duncan Student Center is the Dahnke Ballroom on the seventh floor of the building, which will serve to improve student life outside of football season, vice president for facilities design and operations Doug Marsh said.

“ … Above the rim [of Notre Dame Stadium] are hospitality spaces activated for not just the six or seven home games, but also for many other special events we’ll host here on campus — principally for student life,” Marsh said on a press tour Aug. 11. “ … [There is] the Dahnke Family Ballroom on the seventh level that will host up to 600 people at a banquet function — but more importantly for student life, our residence halls’ great traditions and their twice-a-year semi-formals that they host in and around campus throughout every academic year.”

The overall intention of the facility, Hoffmann Harding said, is to promote student growth in a communal environment.

“I’m delighted, I’m thrilled and I’m so hopeful about how this new facility will allow us to support, engage and develop our students over generations to come,” she said on the press tour.

The Duncan Student Center

The Duncan Student Center is located on the west side of Notre Dame Stadium and will contain student lounges, career centers, restaurants and a new recreational facility.

Hoffmann Harding said the design of the building and the components within the building is intended to bring the Notre Dame community closer together.

“We open this building to our students in January 2018, and we hope that it is going to reflect what’s always been true about Notre Dame: we build community,” Hoffmann Harding said. “We hope that our students are going to have and build and lead integrated lives. Thanks to Fr. [Basil] Moreau, this is a University that cares about an education of the mind and the heart. And so we really want this new facility to reflect those aspirations in terms of the functions that it’s going to play and the energy and excitement that it’s going to offer to our students, first and foremost, but also to our faculty and staff to come together and to interact with one another.”

Students took a large role in designing aspects of the Duncan Student Center that will particularly affect student life, Hoffmann Harding said.

“Students have been engaged — I hate to say it, but this has actually been a 20-year dream for the University,” she said. “So we have long known that LaFortune Student Center, which is designed to complement this building, is about undersized compared to our peers by about half in terms of total square footage. So students were engaged, actually, as part of that process in terms of saying, ‘What’s missing at Lafortune? What’s missing overall?’ … So we hope that it’s going to reflect their desires and their aspirations when we move forward.”

Student input was particularly crucial, Hoffmann Harding said, in creating the new student innovation lounge.

“The first floor, which is a traditional student center, [contains] an innovation lounge down on the south end, which is student-designed,” she said. “Their input in terms of creative opportunities, in terms of technology and different ways that they want to interact — that, they helped us put together.”

The various dining options in the Duncan Student Center — which will include a coffee house, a noodle bar and a vegan- and gluten free-friendly restaurant founded by two Notre Dame graduates — will also serve as gathering spaces, Hoffman Harding said.

“On the north side [there is] a lot of activity in the evenings in our cafe, which is a coffee shop but will also be host to student performing groups — acoustic acts that come and are able to entertain our students,” Hoffmann Harding said. “ … In the middle [there are] eateries. Students can come over from their classrooms throughout the day, and really interact and talk with one another.”

The second floor “loft,” Hoffmann Harding said, will house most student media groups on campus and provide state-of-the-art facilities.

“On the second floor [is] the loft, which is home to our student media groups, which will be combined for the very first time in this building,” she said. “So we will have our print publications, our radio stations and our student TV station all interacting with one another. And we’re really particularly excited about the open-air TV studio that will be present for our students.”

The increased meeting space, Hoffmann Harding said, provided the University with the opportunity to create designated areas for graduate students at Notre Dame to gather.

“There are a variety of meeting rooms, which students will use for speakers or for their leadership events within their clubs,” she said. “And, again for the first time, on the south end we will have a graduate student lounge — the first time that that growing student population has had a dedicated facility on our campus. And the graduate student union and our graduate student life program director will be located there, as well as our office of residential life.”

This designated area for residential life is a vital component of the Duncan Student Center, Hoffmann Harding said.

“Certainly a critical and core component of the University of Notre Dame is the formation that occurs in our residence halls. That leadership team will be housed here,” she said.

Above the traditional student center, Hoffmann Harding said, is the Smith Center for Recreational Sports, which will replace the Rolfs Sports Recreation Center.

“Floors three and four [are] the Smith recreational center, which will triple the amount of space available not only to students, but also to our faculty and staff on campus,” she said. “It will also have extraordinary views of our campus while our students are nurturing their own well-being, which is one of our primary objectives for their lives here.”

The fifth floor will be home to three different career services, something Hoffmann Harding said will be beneficial for employers as well as students.

“Again, for the first time — so many firsts in this new Duncan Student Center — we will have our graduate business career services, our graduate career services and our undergraduate career center, co-located for the very first time,” Hoffmann Harding said. “[This is] not only modeling to our students we hope that they’re thinking about discerning their calling and their placement beyond Notre Dame, but really for our employers to understand that when you come to recruit at the University at Notre Dame, you’re recruiting all of our students, we want to offer you a common experience and, again, it’s going to be an extraordinary facility with shared 40 interview rooms for employers and students to interact and engage in that facility.”

Throughout the entire facility, Hoffmann Harding said, is a rock climbing wall for community members to try out.

“We hope it’s going to add both a vertical connection for the building, but also a sense of well-being and excitement for students there,” she said. “So we’re thrilled and delighted by that addition to the rec center.”

The Dahnke Ballroom

The Dahnke Family Ballroom, Marsh said, introduces additional options for student events given the size of the space.

“It is principally the University’s new living room,” Marsh said. “It’s the largest ballroom on campus and will be first reserved for student functions, particularly semi-formals that happen at least twice a year per hall. The room is [divisible] … so you’ve got two different dances going on at the same time, or you keep it open [with] about 10,000 feet and have a flat-floor concert of 1,000 students enjoying the space.”

Due to the versatility of the space, Hoffmann Harding said students will be able to be creative when deciding upon events to host in the Dahnke Ballroom.

“ … Really, it’s open to their own sense and creativity in terms of the programming that we offer there,” she said.

In the spirit of serving student life, Marsh said, each residence hall on campus is recognized in the Dahnke Ballroom.

“ … We’re really celebrating undergraduate residence hall tradition by noting and labeling the banner around the transition between [the] seventh and eighth floor of our undergraduate residence halls,” Marsh said. “They’re listed in chronological order, beginning with the centerpiece we call the hearth and then alternating in chronological fashion.”

The advanced technology in the ballroom also increases its usefulness, Marsh said.

“We have embedded technology to support all kinds of presentations and shows, including theatrical lighting in the ceiling grid,” he said. “Also six laser projectors present content — video or slides, etc. — and, of course, a myriad of large-format televisions.”

Outside of football season and student use — which Marsh said will receive priority — Marsh said the Dahnke Family Ballroom will be available for those outside the Notre Dame community to rent.

“This is a place that is also open to the public,” he said. “We welcome people to reserve its use through Venue ND. It will seat, for instance, 600 people at a banquet at maximum.”

The ballroom is equipped to serve this purpose, Marsh said, due to kitchen facilities located in the basement of the building.

“This is a building — actually the entire complex — supported by a new series of commercial kitchens that are in the basement of the Duncan Student Center,” he said. “There are elevators that push that food up — and other materials and supplies — to this building and to others through the concourses, and then there are pantry kitchens on every level to support the hospitality events that will occur frequently in these spaces.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a junior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, and currently serving as News Editor. She is a proud resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Contact Courtney