New Life for Old Building

October 06, 2010 By Bryan Roth, Office of Communication Services


After years of work, Facilities completed an $18 million renovation project at Smith Warehouse.

The list of downtime activities reads like a day at camp – yoga class, bridge club, arts and crafts. But it’s not camp; this is how faculty and staff with offices in the Smith Warehouse spend time together during lunch and after work.

Dee Holland, director of professional certificate programs with Continuing Studies, was enthused to hear about the programs when she moved to Smith Warehouse in July. She put her name on a waiting list for the yoga class.
“Because of all the open space, there’s just such a good energy, which makes people want to be social and create a great place to work,” said Holland, who moved from the Erwin Mill building, less than a mile away.

This fall, Duke Facilities completed a renovation project nearly 10 years in the making to transform the century-old brick tobacco warehouse into a sustainable and social workspace for academic offerings. Covering 200,000-square feet, Smith Warehouse houses 17 Duke departments and offices with about 600 employees. Through cool blue to warm red schemes and high ceilings, recycled building materials and new additions like a 300-square feet kitchen, the warehouse and surrounding land has been turned into an office park unique to Duke and Durham.

“We took a building that was not meant for human beings – it was built solely to house tobacco – and turned it into something wonderful,” said Paul Manning, director of Facilities’ project management office. “We’ve taken a 100-year old building and brought it into the 21st century.”

Smith Warehouse was built in 1906 by James B. Duke for the American Tobacco Company and is part of the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Named after Robert A.C. Smith, an American Tobacco Company director in the early 1900s, the building was constructed to house and dry as much as 36 million pounds of tobacco a year.

Duke’s renovation project is being nominated for a Durham Golden Leaf Award for sustainable properties and will be nominated for the internationally recognized Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The American Tobacco Company was dissolved in 1911, and in 2001, Duke purchased the property from Liggett & Myers, who leased the space until 2003 when Facilities Management became the first Duke department to move into three of the 12 bays. Since then, Ftablesacilities has managed the transformation of the warehouse as part of an $18 million renovation plan approved by the Board of Trustees in May 2007.

The renovation involved gutting the space, building new restrooms, staircases and elevators and installing more than 200 new windows. The warehouse’s original floor boards were saved to use as railings and steps throughout newly renovated spaces. The 8-feet tall, 300-pound, original warehouse shutters now hang as decorative directories in public entrances of several bays.

Duke also enhanced the space by transforming Maxwell Avenue, a one-fifth-mile stretch along the south side of the warehouse. The dirt area has become a large, paved lot with 376 parking spaces, tree coverage and picnic area with five tables made from recycled plastics. The picnic space also features a floor of stone slabs from a Facilities’ surplus yard.

Holland, the director of professional certificate programs, said she plans to eat lunch at the picnic area instead of her desk in nice weather.

“We know our students that take day-long courses will enjoy this area also to get out of the building,” she added.

As part of the renovation, Duke also created a bio-retention pond near the corner of Maxwell Avenue and Campus Drive, where storm water collects and gets cleaned before entering the local river basins.

“Storm water and proper treatment of storm water is a big issue in Durham and North Carolina, we wanted to make sure that we were doing our part to help,” said Manning, the director of Facilities’ project management office.

A primary driver of the renovation has been enhancing academic offerings of departments at Smith Warehouse.
Anne Lyford, assistant director for the Career Center’s external relations, moved from the Flowers Building to Smith Warehouse last December. The new space is bigger and expanded the center’s capabilities by increasing the interview rooms from six to 18. Two teleconference rooms also were installed.

“These changes are going to enhance the way students engage with career counselors and connect with employers in a way we never accomplished before,” Lyford said. “Employers who come here are often traveling from all over the country, and to be able to provide them with this kind of space and even a lounge and kitchen is a big deal as part of our customer service.”

Jim Roberts, executive vice provost for finance and administration, said renovating Smith Warehouse has allowed Duke to upgrade services and create better-used space. For example, when Duke Library Technical Services moved to the warehouse in 2008, it allowed for The Link, a teaching and study center, to be created on the ground floor of Perkins Library.

“We have so many dynamic programs, it’s important to always look at ways to best use all the space we have to enhance not just our departments, but the Duke community as well,” Roberts said. “To have many different offices and departments in one central location is a microcosm of the Duke community – people with all kinds of skills and backgrounds who get to interact with each other to make a wonderful and unique workplace.”