Penn State architecture students get real-life lessons working on Bellefonte waterfront redevelopment

A Penn State architectural engineering class project could make a small impact on the final outcome of Bellefonte’s waterfront redevelopment project.

Charles Cox’s class of fourth-year students took this semester to design buildings for the land along Spring Creek between High and Lamb streets.

The project allowed the students to get real-world experience in the process of working with clients.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart didn’t know what to expect when he was approached by the professor, but he was so pleased with the outcome that he thinks some of the student designs could be incorporated into the final project, he said.

“We are impressed enough that we asked for copies of their slides,” Stewart said. “We would like to share them with the developers that we are working with.”

Most of the designs included some form of hotel with office and retail space, built around a flood wall because the area is in a flood plain.

Some of the projects differed on what to do with the old Silk Mill. Stewart said that many of the students had similar ideas to the borough, removing the newer additions to the building but salvaging other portions.

Some Bellefonte officials sat in for the final class presentations, including Stewart, Assistant Borough manager Don Holderman, Borough Council President Frank “Buddy” Halderman, Industrial Development Authority Chairman Paul Badger and solicitor Rodney Beard.

Courtney Millett, a student in the class, said it was a good experience to get out of the classroom and work with real people to solve actual design problems. She added that proximity of the project to Penn State made it more relatable, and she was happy to get the chance to potentially help out with some design incorporated into a real project.

“It’s nice to have some sort of contribution to the area in Centre County,” Millett said, adding that if some of their designs are used, it could be something to put on a resume.

Cox said that some of the major challenges for the students were designing the large amount of available space, working with the flood wall and making decisions on what to do with the existing buildings.

The class took several trips to the site to get the lay of the land and spark some creative ideas.

In addition to building design, they worked on site analysis and traffic patterns.

The hands-on experience for the students is crucial, Cox said. When it’s combined with the theory-based learning, it creates a well-rounded student experience. He said they looked at Bellefonte as a real-life situation.

“We consider them as a client, and that’s a motivating factor in itself,” he said.

Stewart said he hopes to work with the class more in the future, possibly for some designs on the borough’s recently purchased National Guard Armory property.