Penn State

Penn State residence hall renovations add touch of home

When thousands of Penn State students move into their on-campus housing this weekend, some will discover their dorms have chair rail-lined hallways, private bathrooms, meeting space and kitchens.

And air conditioning.

It’s as though a construction crew on HGTV invaded South Halls over the summer and made it look like new.

Two of the 1950s-era dorms that had been under renovation, and a new one that had been under construction will be open to students this year. Gone is the so-called gerbil tube, or covered walkway for students to get from South and Pollock halls to East College Avenue without circling around South.

“We’re excited about this week — we think we’re meeting the students’ needs,” said Conal Carr, the university’s housing director.

The project is the first phase of an $83 million renovation to the residence hall area with specific goals for the inside and outside of the dorms. On the inside, the goal is to create for the students the feel of home at college. University officials also see the resulting beautification of the exterior as a way to create flow from campus to the downtown.

Lyons and Haller halls were renovated, and Chace Hall was the one that was built on the plot of land near McKean Road at Shortlidge Road.

Penn State alumni who lived in those dorms or residents who’ve driven by them countless times will immediately notice the changes to the exterior. Instead of the red-brick bunker style, the facades have been updated with new brick as well as bump-outs that add dimension to the look.

Inside, the dorms have been updated to reflect more of what college students want in their on-campus living environment, Carr said.

The biggest difference between the dorm of yesteryear and the renovation may be the removal of the so-called gang bathrooms, with a couple toilet stalls and showers separated by a long row of sinks.

In place of the gang bathrooms, the university went with private bathrooms featuring one room with a toilet, sink and shower. Each floor of the dorms has five of these private bathrooms, according to a ratio of six students to one bathroom, Carr said.

The furniture in the rooms is new, and it’s modular, so that students can move the storage drawers around and even raise their bed if they’d like to fit more stuff underneath.

The room sizes, at 12 by 15 feet, haven’t changed, except for the ceiling height in Lyons and Haller halls. The ceilings have been lowered a bit to conceal the ductwork for the air conditioning.

Chace Hall has 9-foot ceilings and its room sizes are a tad larger at 12 by 16 feet.

Carr said the new concepts in South Halls were tried at smaller scales with renovations in North Halls and Simmons and McElwain halls. Students’ feedback was very positive, he said.

The dorms also have meeting rooms, gathering spaces with kitchens and suites with their own kitchens that can be used for sorority social functions.

Crews will continue working on the other residence halls in South, Carr said, with the project scheduled for completion by January 2015.