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Penn State Submits Preliminary Plans For James Building Replacement

Penn State’s proposed plans for replacing the James Building in downtown State College include an approximately 85,000 square foot, six-story Center for Innovation, Making, and Learning.

Office of Physical Plant staff presented preliminary plans for the new 95-foot tall building at the June 5 State College Planning Commission meeting.

The university revealed last summer that it planned to demolish the nearly 100-year-old building at 121-123 S. Fraser St. and replace it with a new facility that will, in large part, serve as a hub for the Invent Penn State entrepreneurial and innovation initiative. Penn State began leasing the existing three-story, 30,000-square-foot building in 1988 and purchased it in 2009. The property also includes the one-story former Paul & Tony’s Stereo. For the past 30 years the main building was home to the Daily Collegian student newspaper as well as Bellisario College of Communications offices and the Media Effects Research Lab.

Those will be relocated to temporary sites until completion of the major expansion of the Willard Building for the new Bellisario Media Center on campus is completed in 2020.

At this month’s planning commission meeting, project manager Dave Peck said the university evaluated the James Building for several years, but that structural and HVAC problems as well as access issues led to the decision to demolish it and build new.

Invent Penn State facilities that are currently scattered across Innovation Park and the Happy Valley LaunchBox business accelerator located at 224 S. Allen St. in a building leased from the borough would occupy the first and second floor, with a mezzanine in between floors. Among the features on those floors will be maker and co-meeting spaces.

“We’re looking to consolidate a couple of groups that have community involvement and get them more into the community,” Peck said.

The façade design is still being developed, but the first two floors are intended to have an open concept and “a lot of glass,” to give visibility into the building. The rest of the building’s exterior, however, is not expected to be predominantly glass.

Floors three, four and five will have office spaces, including the deans’ suites for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and College of Information Sciences and Technology. Peck said that will free up space for those colleges to grow while consolidating offices on campus.

The sixth floor will be a large gathering and function space that can be shared by the tenants of the new building. It is also expected to have an outdoor porch and a view of campus.

Parking with 32 spaces will be located below ground. The university was previously granted a zoning amendment for a reduction in spaces for non-residential new construction. The parking will be gated and controlled by permits provided to building occupants.

The number of parking spaces will not accommodate everyone who works in the building. Most occupants are expected to continue parking in campus facilities. University planner Neil Sullivan said that the new West Campus parking deck, which is currently in the planning stages, will be a 10-minute walk, and the Nittany Deck is about a 12-minute walk. They also will be able to use the CATA Bus routes and Blue and White Loop routes.

“We’re going to be relying on the parking ecosystem on campus,” Sullivan said. “A lot of the occupants that will be moving into this building already park on campus so we plan to continue that practice.”

He added that LaunchBox occupants are already accustomed to parking in the borough, walking or biking.

The new building is expected to have pedestrian and ADA-accessible entries from both Burrowes Street at the west side and Miller Alley to the east. 

First floor setbacks and cantilevered upper floors will allow for the creation of a covered sidewalk at the south side of the building.

The existing property is already about 95 percent impervious, but a green roof on the new building is expected to help with stormwater runoff.

Peck said planners have also had discussions with project engineers about the possibility of a solar array on the main roof, with the potential to provide solar electric to the building at opening or have it configured to add in the future.

The university expects to submit final plans in August. Planning Commission Chair Zoe Boniface said she is looking forward to seeing the façade design. 

“I’m hoping to see very high standards for aesthetics because the downtown needs help,” Boniface said.

The Design Review Board also received the preliminary plans and comments included using materials that would differentiate it from the red brick that dominates much of the west end of downtown.

Peck said that the university currently plans to begin abatement work and demolition in October. Construction would then begin in January 2020, with completion in July 2021. 

New Alley and portions of Miller Alley are expected to be closed during construction. Burrowes Street may be narrowed to create a pedestrian route around the construction. Those temporary changes would require borough approval.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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