Penn State

What’s planned for Penn State’s James Building replacement? Final plan moves forward

A final plan for Penn State’s proposed Center for Innovation, Making and Learning was approved for review Wednesday by the State College Borough Planning Commission.

The $52.8 million project involves demolishing the existing two-story, brick James Building at 121-123 S. Burrowes St. in downtown State College and constructing an 85,000 square-foot six-story building measuring 94 feet tall with a below-ground parking level.

Over the years, the James Building has “experienced a number of issues with deterioration of the structure and some access issues that have also surfaced,” project leader Dave Peck said.

The new planned innovation center will have an updated HVAC system, a small green roof to manage stormwater and LEED Silver certification. The main roof is constructed for solar panels to eventually be installed, said Chris Boskey, architect with KeiranTimberlake Associates.

Three main tenants will occupy the new building — Invent Penn State and Happy Valley LaunchBox on the first and second floors and the deans of the College of Earth and Mineral Science and Information Sciences and Technology on the fourth and fifth floors, Peck said. The third floor will be “shelf space” and the sixth floor is designed as an event and meeting space for use by the entire building.

“(We’re) trying to create a new hub of activity (so) that these different groups are able to move to one location and really connect to the community for workshops, collaboration and other activities ... while tying this in to campus as well,” Peck said.

The James Building was most recently occupied by the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, Media Effects Research Lab and The Daily Collegian student newspaper, which have all mostly relocated to different buildings until the Willard Building construction is complete in late 2020.

The lower parking level will have 31 spaces and be accessible by ramp from Miller Alley, Peck said. Parking spaces will be regulated similar to those in the Rider Building next door and the James Elliott Building across the street. A back entrance to the building will also be located on Miller Alley.

Though parking won’t accommodate all occupants of the building, according to Peck, most people are expected to either walk, bike or take the bus.

Exterior design will include large windows and folds in the building facade to create definition and increase interior light, he said. The sixth floor will be designed to overlook campus and the green roof to enhance the space’s views.

With the main entrance to the building on Burrowes Street, Penn State wants to use the large windows and folded facade to increase connectivity. They are also planning to add an eight foot sidewalk on New Alley to encourage foot traffic and people looking inside the space.

Passersby on Burrowes Street and New Alley will be able to look at metal work, welding and woodworking inside Invent Penn State’s makerspace on the first floor.

“(Burrowes Street) is essentially our showcase side. So we have a lot of glass on the front of the building that people on the sidewalk area able to see what’s going on, what’s happening on the inside of the space,” Peck said.

A demolition permit is still pending for the James Building and the project team has requested a street closure from council to proceed with demolition, said Greg Garthe, senior planner and zoning officer.

Planning Commission member Ron Madrid expressed concern that Penn State would widen its carbon footprint by adding administrative spaces in the new building without taking space away elsewhere. The existing James Building is about 30,000 square feet and two stories.

Boskey said the new building is a “responsible use of space” with a bus stop at the front door that can be accessed by bicycle and walking. The new building will have about 32 “undercover” spaces for bike parking and showers inside for cyclists. Though the building is working toward LEED Silver certification, they are aiming for LEED Gold, he said.

Planning Commission member Jon Eich commended the plan for energy efficiency, the green roof stormwater management and LEED certification.

Zoe Boniface, Planning Commission chairperson, said she wanted to personally commend the design staff “for putting attention into the street facade and to putting in activities that will help enliven our downtown.”