Penn State

Coming to town for Blue-White weekend? You might notice this PSU campus construction

Upgrades to freshman dorms part of Penn State’s multi-billion-dollar capital plan

Renovations to the residence halls in Penn State University Park's East complex include Brumbaugh, Tener and Pinchot and total $235 million.
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Renovations to the residence halls in Penn State University Park's East complex include Brumbaugh, Tener and Pinchot and total $235 million.

A year into a nearly $5 billion five-year capital plan, Penn State is reworking the form and function of well-known and historic spots across its main campus.

The landmark Willard Building is among those undergoing major work this year as the university tackles deferred facilities maintenance, service backlogs and other long-held capital priorities. Projects finished in 2018 include Panzer Stadium — a 1,430-seat lacrosse stadium on University Drive — along with renovations to the School of Music’s recital hall.

Here’s a look at some high-profile work that’s underway or recently finished — and sure to be noticed by alumni visiting over the annual Blue-White weekend that begins Friday.

Willard Building

The Pollock Road entrance to the Willard Building is currently closed due to the ongoing renovation process to accommodate a consolidation of space and include an upgraded, state-of-the-art media center for the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. Michael Sneff

The Willard Building renovation project will see a consolidation of space and an upgraded media center for the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, as well as improvements to an adjacent entrance to Pollock Road and a new system for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Built in 1949, Willard is among the most classroom-dense facilities on campus, according to Penn State. Preliminary construction has begun, and work should be complete in spring 2020 for student use that fall. The project is budgeted to run about $43 million, with much of the money coming from alumnus Bellisario’s $30 million gift to the university in 2017, according to the college. The gift landed Bellisario a spot in the college’s name; the new media center also will bear his name.

Residence halls

East Halls has undergone the most renovation and construction of any facility or complex on campus — and the university isn’t done upgrading the first-year dormitory halls.

Renovation of residence halls in the East and Pollock complexes has been divvied up into phases since the process started in spring 2016.

Phase 1A saw the construction of two new halls, Earle Hall in East and Robinson Hall in the North Halls complex. Phase 1B included renovations at Pennypacker, McKean and Stuart halls in East and ended this past fall.

Phase 1C, now underway at a cost of $84.5 million, involves renovations to Brumbaugh, Tener and Pinchot halls. That work should be done for the fall semester. Phase 1 overall is costing the university $235 million.

In addition, Phase 2A, which will see renovations at Sproul and Geary halls in East, won approval recently from the university trustees. The $54 million construction project is set to begin in May.

2019-02-19_for Mike StaussSproul Hall w-o landscaping_r1.jpg
Sproul Hall is to undergo renovation after a recent approval for construction by the Penn State Board of Trustees, to be finished in 2022. Clayco Corp Photo provided

Phase 2B will see the $78.9 million renovation of Bigler, Curtin and Packer Halls, and Phase 2C will take care of Hastings, Snyder and Stone Halls, also with a $78.9 million budget.

Phase 2 overall will be the largest residence hall construction project in Penn State history, according to Clayco Inc., the Chicago-based company behind the project. In all, eight halls will be renovated under the effort, which is set to be complete by 2022.

Later, the Pollock residence halls of Hiester, Porter and Shunk are due to undergo a $88.8 million renovation in Phase 3A, while Ritner, Schultz and Wolf will fall under Phase 3B with a $96.1 million budget.

Replacing Fenske

Work recently finished on the new, $144 million Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Building, which took the spot of Fenske Laboratory — now demolished — near Shortlidge Road. Students and faculty should using the new facility by the fall semester.

It’s part of the College of Engineering and features new faculty offices, specialized chemical engineering labs and space for student collaboration. Construction began in September 2016.

The Fenske Labratory, located near Shortlidge Road on Penn State’s University Park campus, is no more, as the building has been demolished to make way for a new, $144 million state-of-the-art facility in the Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Building. Penn State College of Engineering Photo provided


How the university pays for these upgrades varies from project to project, spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. Many are part of the $4.7 billion capital plan that trustees approved in 2017. The five-year push, which started in 2018, targets “critical investments into aging infrastructure and future needs,” according to the plan.

The capital plan involves Penn State campuses across the state, with a variety of projects at the Erie, Berks and Harrisburg campuses already pre-approved or underway.

While gifts help cover some work, other projects may draw from Penn State’s education-and-general budget and other central funds, according to the university. Some $2.1 billion for the capital plan will come from the education-and-general budget, with the rest to come from self-supporting units, the university said.

Projects under the education-and-general budget may see funding from tuition and related fees, state capital resources, philanthropy and other sources. Self-supporting units draw not from tuition but from their own revenue streams.

At the Office of Physical Plant, spokeswoman Susan Bedworth said the university is keen to “offer our students a brand-new space.”

“The biggest thing that we want to get across is that a lot of the work that is going on is impacting our backlog in a good way,” Bedworth said.