In March 2011, the Board of Trustees voted to halt all progress on many new construction projects that were then in progress, short of breaking ground. This means that major projects still in the design and bidding phases were put on hold until further notice. However, based on the extent to which many of them had been designed and the fact that many of the contracts had already been granted, we can only assume that they will come to fruition one day. To help counter the Penn State building rumor mill (“They’re putting a building on the HUB Lawn, OMG, WTF?!”), this is the first in a series of posts looking at projects currently on hold, as well as those already in progress.
The way the Penn State new construction process works, in short, is as follows:
1) The University decides that it needs a new building or some other kind of new construction.
2) The University directs a Letter of Interest to all qualified firms. This letter includes a broad description of the project in question and is directed towards generating responses from interested firms.
3) Firms express their interest in the project, and a Screening Committee chooses around 10 of these firms to be placed on the “Long List” for the project.
4) These firms then generally receive a Request for Proposals for the project. In this step, the University asks for the firms to generate a proposal for the project. The University sends a more detailed description of the project that may include what spaces are to be included and their sizes, the existing conditions of the building to be renovated or area to house the new building, systems integrations (HVAC, steam/water access, etc.), and a multitude of other factors that will help the firms.
5) The Long-Listed firms take this information and generate a schematic design of the project, including their estimated price to complete the project.
6) The University chooses three firms from this list, based on their proposals.
7) A Selection Committee interviews the three remaining firms and the chosen firm is announced at the next Board of Trustees meeting.
Most of the projects that are currently halted have granted their contracts to a chosen firm, however, no work is to be done on the projects until further notice.
The first of these projects that we will explore is the expansion of the HUB-Robeson Center and some small changes to the White Building. This project began in 2005, when WTW Architects of Pittsburgh were asked to do a feasibility study to investigate the possible expansion of the HUB and White Building, including a bridge connecting the two. This project was estimated at just over 58,000 square feet, split fairly evenly between the two existing buildings. By the time the Letter of Interest was sent out in December, 2010, the project scope had been nearly cut in half, down to 27,600 square feet at an estimated cost of $25,300,000. Most of the reduction in size had been cut out of the White Building fitness program, most notably an open fitness area including a climbing wall and a cardio area.
The new scope of the project includes the following areas (from the Letter of Interest):
- Expanding and enhancing a variety of student-related activity and service spaces, such as banking, the ID office, radio/TV stations, student clubs/storefronts, a computer & learning lab, the PSU computer sales center, and leisure/recreation areas.
- Providing additional informal gathering and eating areas.
- Providing additional multi-purpose rooms for meetings and activities.
- Enhancing the visual character of the eastern side of the building and HUB lawn edge.
- Improving pedestrian circulation and accessibility through and around the facility
While many of these aspects are left intentionally ambiguous to allow firms creativity in their design, the most interesting aspect is the provision of ”additional gathering and eating areas.” The University proposed enclosing the outdoor eating area located outside of Union St., Joegies, etc. in what they call the “Winter Garden.” Covering this under-utilized area would provide 9,000 square feet of area for additional seating for the HUB eating areas as well as for multi-purpose use during other times of the day.
The contract for this project was granted in March of this year to the GUND Partnership of Cambridge, MA, as architect for the HUB/Robeson Center Addition and Renovation. The project is currently on hold until funds for the project are “certain and secure,” as stated at the March 18th Board of Trustees meeting. It is not out of the question, however, that freshmen, and possibly even sophomores, may see this project completed before graduation.
Although it is hard to make any architectural judgment on this project without seeing any kind of proposition, I see this project as being a very worthwhile investment as far as campus construction goes. As you probably have experienced, the HUB can become overcrowded at peak times, to say the least. Its central location on campus also makes it an ideal meeting spot for student clubs and organizations, and the provision of additional gathering places will definitely be taken advantage of by campus groups. Overall, I see this project as being successful if/when it is completed, as the need for these spaces will only increase.
I just wish they kept the climbing wall.