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Trustees (Finally) Approve $100 Million Residence Hall Additions At Brandywine and Abington

The Board of Trustees met Tuesday via teleconference to discuss and eventually approve $100 million in capital expenses at the Penn State Brandywine and Abington campuses. The projects — a residence hall at each campus and a new student union building/dining hall at Brandywine — were tabled at the full board meeting in November at the request of Governor Tom Wolf and his representatives.

All alumni trustees and many gubernatorial trustees urged the board to table the project to take the time to further study those campuses and the large expense at the November meeting. “I think we can spend a couple of more months at this, and talk about it more and get a little more information, and then have another discussion,” Trustee Anthony Lubrano said at the time.

In his closing remarks in November, Chairman of the Board Keith Masser urged the trustees to take the time to learn more about the projects, ask questions, and “be prepared to vote yes or no by December.” It’s worth nothing that about $15 million had already been put into the three projects for contracting and design work.

“Since that time a number of questions have been asked about these projects,” Chair Masser said during today’s conference call. “Through the thoughtful and good work of our administration each trustee has received in advance on informational document that addresses the questions that were raised.”

Vice President for Finance & Business David Gray noted that further delay for the projects could push the completion timeline back a full year and would ultimately cost the university more money.

“An investment in residence life facilities at Abington and Brandywine will help them to hold their own among the other institutions in the region and help them to grow by enhancing their ability to attract international and out of service area students,” read today’s meeting’s agenda.

The proposal to approve the residence halls also included a directive for the university to give a serious look at the potential for future public-private partnerships, which would put the ownership of on-campus residence halls in the hands of private realtors while still giving Penn State some control over the buildings, which some say could reduce costs.

As per most Trustee meetings these days, things got complicated with a number of resolutions and amendments. Trustee Elliott Weinstein wanted a motion to require a mandatory public-private partnership consideration for all student housing projects and non-academic related facilities (Weinstein is a realty consultant by trade). There was also an amendment to include a three-year moratorium on room and board expenses and a mandate for the administration to present a budget plan to that effect at the next meeting.

Most of the hour-long conference call revolved around discussions and confusions about the wording of these amendments. Some trustees, like Matt Schuyler, opined that the Board should just “trust the administration” and approve the non-binding public-private partnership language in the original resolution. The alumni trustees and ex officio political trustees wanted that commitment to be more severe and permanent.

“I really appreciate the proposal from Trustee Weinstein and the discussions about the public private partnerships. However I do agree this is too quick,” student trustee Luke Metaxas said. “I think that this should be more aggressive, and as a student I think we should take the time and make the right decision. I agree with other trustees I would like to see further discussion but I do not agree with this amendment.”

Weinstein’s motion ultimately failed with a 21-14 vote, and the original motion (approval for the residence halls and the suggestion for further considerations into public-private partnerships) passed 22-13.

tl;dr — The university will build a residence hall with 258 beds and a 31,000 square foot student union building and dining hall at the Brandywine campus. Abington is also getting an off campus apartment-style residence halls with 402 beds. It will cost the university about $100 million to complete, and some trustees were upset at that steep price and the lack of future binding public-private partnership provisions.

The Board’s next full meeting is in Hershey on February 25. Perhaps “the Sweetest Place on Earth” will make our Board a little more fun.

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