A little less than a century ago, the Steidle Building was a premier laboratory for Penn State’s aspiring mining engineers, complete with its own instructional mine shaft that still stands.
Today, the building has less to do with coal than with chemistry, which is what prompted a $52 million renovation project that is due to be completed in May 2016.
The Mueller Building off Curtin Road, which houses laboratories for the biology department, also is seeing significant changes — an $18 million renovation is set to be finished in July 2015.
Steidle, which stands between the Willard and Hosler buildings on Pollock Road, holds laboratories for the department of materials sciences and engineering.
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It dates to 1929, when it was built for the minerals field, particularly mining. However, the number of future mining engineers has dropped considerably, and Steidle now serves an entirely different purpose.
That was the argument Gary Messing made in 2008 to then-university president Graham Spanier. Messing has been the head of the materials science and engineering department in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences since 2001 and is a distinguished professor.
Steidle is four stories tall and, until recently, its three wings — the third having been added in 1939 — formed an E shape.
It was built on the concept of each research area using three labs, dividing the department.
“The faculties “built up little kingdoms” separate from one another, Messing said, hindering interaction among its occupants.
“We’re not building kingdoms this time,” he said. “We’re building a concept of shared facilities, shared vision, shared collaboration, shared interaction.”
That is the vision EYP Architecture and Engineering has been working on for two years.
Visiting the department every two weeks for about six months, members of the Albany, N.Y., firm worked in teams with faculty, staff and students to develop a vision of the new space.
The graduate and undergraduate programs, along with materials research in general, are growing, leaving Steidle’s lack of space with two options — make the department smaller or go with EYP’s idea of knocking down the middle section of the building that created its E.
In its place will be what Messing described as a four-story, glass-enclosed laboratory suite and classrooms. In the center will be an atrium flooding the building with sunlight from the roof.
Messing said he thinks the open laboratories and abundance of sunlight will create a spirit of openness and cohesiveness, allowing those walking through to see its occupants doing research and working in the laboratories.
The ground floor will have new classrooms and laboratories geared to undergraduates, as well as new research space for nanomedicine.
As a result of the larger, more open labs and increased opportunities for undergraduates, Messing said, the department thinks there will be a substantial increase in undergraduate enrollment, which already has doubled in the past three years to 261 students.
“This will be a problem because then the building won’t be big enough,” he said, laughing. “But we’ll deal with that when we get there.”
On the second floor will be an office suite, administrative offices and an open lab research space that will span the building from the second floor to the fourth.
On each side of each wing will be graduate space for about 28 people, including students, visiting scientists and post-doctoral workers.
Two laboratories — processing and mechanical behavioral materials on the second floor and electrochemistry on the fourth — will be open and shared among the concentrations.
The third floor will have a computation area, where research focused on modeling and predicting the fundamental properties in materials sciences is conducted.
The new space will include a new lab for additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, that will support graduate and undergraduate education.
“In the field of materials science, it’s a very hands-on discipline,” Messing said. “So the increased amount of space for undergrad laboratories is really exceptional, and each will be equipped at a very high level as well, so our kids get the highest education possible.”
The renovation project won’t come with new technology or equipment. Instead, the department plans to solicit these from alumni and industry in return for naming rights on the laboratories, with costs ranging from $40,000 to $1 million.
This includes buying smaller-scale equipment for undergraduate students to handle without impeding the work of graduate students or faculty, Messing said. This equipment includes scanning electron microscopes, which can produce images of a material sample, and X-ray crystallography, which will allow students to observe the crystal structure of materials.
Equipment donations are already flowing in, Messing said, including a $40,000 gift from Joel and Kim Boeshore Reed for the Paul Reed Thermal Analysis Lab. It’s named in honor of Paul Reed’s father, a 1942 materials science graduate. Joel Reed, studied ceramic science and engineering, and Kim Boeshore Reed studied computer science at Penn State.
“They can come in, they can use it, they can touch it, maybe they’ll break it sometimes,” Messing said. “The idea is, instead of having students stand around and looking at this equipment, they actually get to touch it and use it and find out, ‘This is what this really means.’ ”
Because construction is happening all at once as opposed to staged renovations, the building’s 18 faculty and 14 staff members have been displaced.
With the exception of a few who moved into the basement of the Deike Building or the EMS Energy Institute Building on Pine Road, most are working in a 12,000-square-foot module laboratory between Research Unit A Modular Laboratory and the Forest Research Laboratory off Hastings Road.
When the department moves back into Steidle, the university will repurpose the module laboratory to fit the next round of occupants displaced by renovations, a decision Messing described as “very forward-thinking.”
Not far from Steidle, the Mueller project focuses on renovating the general biology laboratories on the first floor and completing partial renovations on the fourth and sixth floors, which house the anatomy and physiology laboratories.
Office of Physical Plant project manager Robert Bloom said they will contain new technology and modernized equipment, and the building’s electrical systems will be improved.
Mueller was built in 1965, and the renovation process began in 2011. Butler architectural firm Stantec consulted with members of the biology department to design the new areas of the building. Construction began in May.
Although there are no immediate plans to renovate other areas of the building, Bloom said the opportunity will come up once the equipment in those areas reaches the end of its useful service life.