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Penn State ‘Breaks Ground’ On New West Campus Engineering Facilities

Penn State’s College of Engineering held a ceremony Friday afternoon to symbolically “break ground” on the school’s massive expansion on the west side of campus.

The ceremony recognized the construction of Penn State’s upcoming College of Engineering expansions, including two new research and teaching spaces aptly referred to as “West 1” and “West 2.” Both projects are part of the school’s 10-year master plan to improve the College of Engineering’s facilities.

Despite Penn State symbolically breaking ground Friday, construction on both facilities is already underway. Construction on West 2 is expected to end by fall 2022, while West 1’s construction should wrap up the next fall.

Penn State President Eric Barron, College of Engineering Dean Justin Schwartz, and project architect Jeff DeGregorio spoke at the event. So did Board of Trustees chair Matt Schuyler and engineering student Maria Jose Alvarez-Rodriguez.

It wouldn’t be a Penn State event with the Nittany Lion, right?

Schwartz hosted the hour-long event and introduced the day’s speakers. In his own remarks, he said the revamped west campus will serve as an academic hub for all of Penn State.

“Interdisciplinary collaboration is a core strength at Penn State, and the design philosophy for West 1 and West 2 was to enable broad, collaborative engagement of not just engineering, but across the university,” he said. “With every brick laid, every beam installed, we are building spaces that enable excellence in academics and research.”

Schwartz emphasized how the new facilities will help the College of Engineering serve future generations of Penn Staters, all built upon the hard work of more than 120,000 alumni.

“The construction we celebrate today will empower so many students and faculty to achieve — students and faculty watching today, as well as many students and faculty not yet born. Some will likely be the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those in attendance or watching now,” Schwartz said. “So I can’t tell you all of the names of the students and faculty who will benefit from today, and I can’t imagine the amazing technical accomplishments that they will achieve. But I do know that thanks to what we are beginning here and now, for decades to come, more and more advancements in engineering and for society will have roots in University Park.”

College of Engineering Dean Justin Schwartz hosted the event and spoke to the crowd.

West 1, located just off White Course Drive, will house the college’s departments of aerospace, architectural, and civil and environmental engineering. The $228 million, 290,000-square-foot facility will also include research and teaching labs, classrooms, computer labs, office and administrative spaces, a library, food options, and common areas.

West 1 will also house an indoor flight facility that will give students the opportunity to work with unmanned aerial vehicles (read: drones).

West 2, meanwhile, will feature classrooms, multi-use design studios, “cornerstone to capstone” maker spaces, a high-bay research lab, faculty offices, and research cores for all College of Engineering disciplines, according to Penn State. The $88 million project will also house the School of Engineering Design.

Friday’s speakers often thanked Pennsylvania’s government for contributions toward the west campus expansion. About $68 million of West 2’s costs are covered through state capital funding.

Additionally, about $163 million of West 1’s cost is funded through the state’s Department of General Services. The remaining funding will be covered through $30 million in borrowing, $22 million in philanthropy, and more than $12 million in cash reserves.

Both buildings were designed to be LEED-certified. DeGregorio, the architect behind the project, said sustainability guided most decisions.

“West 2 provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to gain hands-on design learning from cornerstone to capstone of their engineering education,” DeGregorio said. “New shop facilities, a prototypical high-bay laboratory, teaching space, and studio space all combine to enable students to learn the design process through real-world hands-on projects that culminate at the Learning Factory space looking back toward campus.”

West 1 and 2 feature timber flooring and curtain walls, plentiful natural daylight, and high-performance glazing and mechanical systems that will, ideally, lower the building’s energy usage.

West campus’s expansion will also help the college accommodate its growing student body. Since 2008, the school’s undergraduate population has increased by 43%, rounding out to more than 12,000 students total.

An artist’s rendering of Penn State’s reimagined west campus. For reference, the existing Westgate Building is seen at the bottom. (Image: Penn State)

Another component of the west campus expansion is a new parking deck. The appropriately named West Deck opened on May 10 and features 1,651 parking spaces, electric charging stations, and pro-biking infrastructures.

The 10-year master plan will stretch through 2028 and ultimately lead to a handful of new facilities and the long-awaited demolition of the Hammond Building. More information on future projects should arrive once it enters its second funding phase from 2023 to 2028.

The project has sprung to life just as the College of Engineering hits its 125th birthday. In his remarks, Barron said the new expansion should ultimately lead to many more prosperous years for the college.

“Today, as we look toward the future — toward the construction of two new engineering buildings and the accompanying development of the West Campus site behind me — I know that the past 125-plus years of engineering at Penn State has strengthened the very foundation of this institution and our commonwealth,” Barron said.

At the event, Barron also joked that the main highlight of the 10-year project is Hammond’s eventual demolition. In fact, he’s wanted it since becoming Penn State’s president in 2014. And with just a handful more months until he retires in June, he might see that come to fruition.

“I said to myself, ‘I am not leaving this job until the Hammond Building is replaced by beautiful buildings that match the excellence of our College of Engineering,” he recalled.

More information about the College of Engineering’s upcoming transformation is available online.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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