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New Duncan Student Center officially opens

| Wednesday, January 17, 2018

After years of planning and construction, the Duncan Student Center officially opened to the entire Notre Dame community Monday.

The new student center, which vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding said is meant to complement the LaFortune Student Center, sits on the west side of Notre Dame Stadium and houses RecSports, the Career Center, most student media and three new campus dining options.

The decor of the building features homages to the Notre Dame football program — such as wood from the stadium’s old benches — and incorporates student art.

“It has, we hope, a very lofty feel, but with nods to the stadium nearby, but really the ownership of the student body itself in many of the touches that you see around,” Hoffmann Harding said.

Chris Collins | The Observer

Students congregate in the new Duncan Student Center Tuesday. The new center, which was inaugurated by University officials on Monday, will serve as a new hub for many different student activities and groups.

Associate vice president of student affairs Brian Coughlin said the Duncan Student Center stands out from the rest of the Campus Crossroads project — which includes the new O’Neill Hall and Corbett Family Hall — due to its centrality to student life at Notre Dame.

“I think it’s the one building that is solely designed with you all in mind,” he said. “ … I think this was really intentionally put on this side of the stadium — closest to DeBartolo and Mendoza — so that there would be this flow between those buildings during the academic day, that you could see this as really part of your day-to-day experience.”

While student feedback influenced much of the design of the building, including the innovation lab on the first floor, Chris Abayasinghe, senior director of Campus Dining, said these opinions were particularly crucial when determining what new dining options would be available in the center.

“As we think about the restaurants themselves and the conceptualization, one of the main driving points for us was with our students,” he said. “We engaged them early on in the process. What we wanted to do was, we wanted to find restaurant concepts that speak to the trends of the future.”

These “micro-restaurants” — Star Ginger Asian Grill and Noodle Bar, Modern Market and Haggerty Family Cafe — focus particularly on diverse and organic food options, Abaysinghe said. The addition of these restaurants, he said, is expected to attract more community members to Campus Dining services each year.

“So historically, our program serves, on the student dining side, 2.1 million meals a year, and then on the retail side, about another two million,” he said. “We anticipate, with the addition of these three new restaurants to our restaurant portfolio, that we should see at least a 20 percent lift on those.”

In addition to an increased number of dining facilities, RecSports’s move from the Rolfs Sports Recreation Center to the third floor of the Duncan Student Center has allowed the program to increase the number of fitness machines and activities studios available, Mark Williams, director of RecSports, said.

“We’ve increased the amount of treadmills, for example, from nine to 28,” he said. “… One of our goals is to make sure that there are no waiting lists for anyone. Before you had to sign up and you would wait, but now I think we have enough equipment where the students, the faculty and the staff will have more of an opportunity to come in at their leisure.”

Students played a role in determining what the focus of the RecSports facilities would be, Coughlin said.

“At first there was more of an emphasis on courts, and now we switched it during the process to be getting more pieces of equipment and more activities studios,” he said. “The shape of the track — we heard that people didn’t want just an oval, they wanted something unique and something different to run on each day. So if you go up there, it’s kind of a funky shape.”

The facilities feature state-of-the-art equipment, 98 percent of which is brand new, Williams said, including a 37-and-a-half-foot climbing wall, a spin room and personal viewing screens connected to the internet on the cardio machines.

“You could watch ESPN, you could watch Netflix, whatever,” he said. “… We tried to make it where you could have a space where, if you really needed to, be engaged with social media or whatever, and another space where if you didn’t want to — if you just wanted to come up and just ride the bike or walk the track.”

Hoffmann Harding said she is most excited to watch students discover the extent of the building’s capabilities and features, such as numerous outlets throughout the center, private study areas and meeting spaces for student groups.

“It’s going to take time for everyone to live into the space to see everything that it does,” she said. “There are probably only about five people on campus … who have knowledge of all of the pieces of furniture and all of the spaces and their capabilities, so it’ll be fun to watch.”

The office of student affairs is hosting a “Best of Duncan” event to introduce students to the building’s features, director of communications for the office of student affairs Kate Morgan said, which will offer performances by student groups, giveaways, food samples and interactive RecSports classes.

“It’s being held just like Best of LaFortune would be, only it’s in conjunction with Walk the Walk Week,” she said. “So we will have student group performances throughout the building, I think using those various spaces on the stairs [and] in Haggerty Family Cafe. … I would say that that’s the next biggest event that is coming up in this space — to really show it off to students.”

While Coughlin said parts of the Duncan Student Center were designed with specific uses in mind, he said his greatest hope is that students “use it how [they] want to use it” and come up with creative ways to take advantage of the facilities.

“If all we do is move currently existing programs or dances into the [Dahnke] Ballroom and into the space, then I think we’ve failed,” Coughlin said. “My hope is that the students and all the programming groups on campus create new programs to put in that Ballroom and to put in these spaces. The story of it’s unwritten.”

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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 Editor-in-Chief. She is a proud resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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