Sneak preview: Durham Performing Arts Center
DPAC naming rights: Teers in; whither Capitol/BCBS?

N&O: NCCU master plan vote delayed for further community discussions

Eric Ferreri over at the N&O has a very good story about the NCCU master plan in today's edition, including the news that recently-installed chancellor Charlie Nelms will not be bringing the plan before the school's board of trustees for a vote today as initially scheduled.

Nccu_overview The plan calls for the purchase and re-use or demolition of a staggering 136 homes adjacent to the campus to support Central's campus expansion. The biggest chunk of properties to be purchased would be several blocks on the southern side of the campus, just to the west of the new school of education facility and east of Fayetteville St. The plan would also bring Central's campus north towards Dupree St.

An enlarged nursing building (intended to support a full professional school in the growing discipline), new residence halls and a library, and an enlarged football stadium are central to the proposal.

The big driver for the campus growth is, well, growth -- NCCU has grown from 6,000 full-time equivalent students in '02 to 8,300 this fall, and the General Assembly set a new target last year of 11,745 in the next ten years. The doubling of NCCU's size is a massive change for the campus as well as the surrounding neighborhood, and one that hasn't come without controversy.

It does not appear that the plan is likely to change, according to Nelms -- he wants to offer more community forums to explain the plan, but Ferreri notes that the chancellor "doesn't expect community feedback to lead to substantial changes to the plan." (The plan is posted on NCCU's website, though as the N&O points out, many of the neighbors don't have Internet access. Heck, I have Internet access and can barely get the plan -- it's a massive 118 megabyte file that makes for a slow download. The N&O had a good summary of the project several weeks back, still available on their web site.)

It's a tough process for Nelms and the surrounding neighborhood, which in the mid-twentieth century houses many of the black elites and professionals who were at the core of the African-American middle class in the Bull City. Today, the sometimes-elderly children and grandchildren of those elites own those houses, and find themselves at odds with the institution that some of their ancestors helped found, and which offered them opportunities in a segregated society.

Interestingly, when you visit NCCU's "Our Neighborhood" page, you hear a lot about Durham as a whole, and about the Research Triangle Park (in the first paragraph no less) -- even the longitude and latitude of the Bull City. But nothing about the surrounding residential neighborhood per se that has housed the campus for almost a century.

Which is, I suspect, symbolic of some of the problems here. Some of the criticism from neighbors has been directed at Nelms' "outsider" status as a newcomer to the Bull City, but I suspect that it has just as much to do with NCCU's growing role as a state institution built on the foundation of what was a very local one.

Founded as a private school, NCCU was taken over by the state in 1925 and became the nation's first state-supported African-American liberal arts college. Even under state control, however, NCCU in its early days was a fundamentally Durham institution, its alumni fueling growth at M&F, NC Mutual, and other firms -- and an institution linked closely to the surrounding blocks.

While NCCU remains an historically black institution, its growth is coming from outside Durham itself. Only 25% of the school's students are from Durham County; half are in-state students from outside the Triangle, with 10% coming from out-of-state.

Not that the overall reshaping of the campus proposed by NCCU doesn't make sense. The plan (see overview pictured above) calls for creating residence hall districts on the campus' perimeter, offering a logical step-down from core campus uses to housing in order to transition into neighborhoods -- though given the different hours and schedules that college students tend to keep, not to mention the occasional party, the concentration of students on the campus' edge may raise eyebrows with neighbors.

Similarly, the plan would create a distinct district on the campus' southern edge for graduate and professional programs, something Durham neighbor Duke has done well along the Science Drive access, and a logical response to the increased interdisciplinarity between programs like law, education and business. Social science, liberal arts and science/technology disciplines would then be on the interior, closest to what the plan calls the "administrative and academic core."

A number of streets on the campus' interior would be closed to vehicular traffic, and the plan calls for a concerted effort to bring back pedestrian scale and access to Central -- something that makes for an attractive draw for prospective students, and just as importantly could bring a different and more integrated feel to the college's campus. A number of new open spaces and quadrangles would be added to the campus to help with this transition.

1,500 parking spaces would be added under the proposal, bringing Central up from a ratio of 0.24 parking spaces per person on campus to 0.4 through the construction of five proposed parking decks, many to be located adjacent to border roads like Alston Ave. and Lawson St. Surface parking lots would in many cases be replaced with new academic and campus buildings.

All of which make sense for an urban campus on the move. But all of which are also likely to get a cool reaction from neighbors.

Others in the community have been supportive. Ferreri's article today quotes Ed Stewart, a Central trustee, as standing behind the idea. Not that Stewart or his employer, UDI (which happens to be Bill Bell's employer), have much of a problem with the occasional bulldozer; Old Five Points still stands in UDI's zone of interest, though one increasingly under scrutiny by neighbors, property owners and preservationists alike.

For that matter, I'm very curious to hear what stands public officials like Bell, Howard Clement and Cora Cole-McFadden (herself a Central alum) take on the project, which has the potential to create a divide among today's Durham black elites, given the natural tension between the benefits of expanding and investing in a core institution and the impact upon its neighbors.

I'm also waiting to hear where Larry and Denise Hester come out on the plan. The Hesters have long fought perceived gentrification of the area around NCCU, arguing that everything from the Heritage Square redevelopment to the TTA rail system would increase density and property values, pricing elderly residents out of their houses. Here we have a plan that would, by definition, displace over a hundred residents; I'm curious if the Hesters will have a similar reaction to this effort.

(Of course, it's also worth noting that both Heritage Square and the two neighboring shopping centers the Hesters own on Fayetteville St. are likely to benefit from the campus' growth.)

The delay in a vote gives more time for community forums to explore these issues; we'll watch to see where they fall out.



For comparison: the ~12,000 NCCU target enrollment (for ten years from now) is identical to the current Duke enrollment.


Why not just head south into the 1970-1980 built neighborhoods? or even just west down Lawson across Roxboro towards south, Lodge, Fargo. Many houses are empty and the Tobacco trail could link it with downtown, heck even a small trolley could deliver students from a downtown economy to NCCU living.
As it grows move north towards 147 getting closer to downtown.

Does anyone besides me think it's insane that NCCU viability as an economic resource has been ignored for so long? Where are the coffee shops, tech stores and such? C'mon, BURGER KING??

NCCU has been disserviced by the community, bussines and neighborhoods for far to long.

The comments to this entry are closed.