Penn State Planning $40.4 Million Renovations To Former Art Museum Building

Penn State is in the planning stages for two projects aimed at increasing its number of general-purpose classrooms as the university gets ready to grow undergraduate enrollment at the University Park campus.

A $40.4 million renovation of the Palmer Museum of Art’s former home on Curtin Road would create “as many general purpose classrooms as possible,” and potentially, storage for art that hasn’t been moved to the museum’s new building at The Arboretum, according to request for proposal documents on the Office of Physical Plant’s website.

The university is also in the early stages of planning for a new general-purpose classroom that would be located on East Park Avenue near the Forest Resources and Business buildings, Julian Morales, director of local government and community relations, told State College Borough Council on Monday night.

Both projects would need to be approved by the Board of Trustees before moving forward.

“Given the current limitations to our general purpose classroom inventory and the University’s desire to increase enrollment at University Park, we are beginning to pursue the possibility of increasing the overall count of general purpose classrooms,” Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers wrote in an email to “This includes repurposing and renovation of the former Palmer Museum of Art on Curtin Road and a potential new classroom building near the Forest Resources Building. These projects are in the planning stages and are contingent upon approval by the Board of Trustees. No firm date has been established for when these projects will go to the Trustees for review.”

The university unveiled in January a “road map for Penn State’s future,” a strategic plan that, among other things, entails $94 million in cuts and balancing the budget by 2026. It includes leveraging the high demand for University Park enrollment by increasing the campus’ first-year class size from 9,175 students in 2023 to 9,500 this year and 10,000 over the next several admissions cycles.

“As part of this plan to increase capacity at University Park, we are looking closely at the investments that will need to be made, from physical infrastructure to additional faculty and staff, to accommodate a larger student body,” Matt Melvin, vice president for enrollment management, said at the time. “We want to do this the right way, so we’ve already engaged in preliminary conversations with key groups on campus and within our community, and we are cognizant of factors such as admissions standards, class sizes, and faculty/staff ratios, which remain incredibly important.”

Penn State officials have long said that once the Palmer Museum completed its move to its new, $85 million home at The Arboretum, which will open to the public on June 1, its former building would be repurposed as a “vibrant student educational space.” But they have not previously detailed what exactly that would mean.

The Curtin Road building was constructed in 1969 and received a significant renovation and expansion in 1991. The planned repurposing project will completely transform the use of the facility, address deferred maintenance, and upgrade the building’s systems and enclosure, according to an RFP for construction management issued on April 7.

Project objectives include creating as many general-purpose classrooms as possible, each at a minimum of 1,000 assigned square feet, with an emphasis on large classrooms. University Park currently has only 24 classrooms with a capacity of 150 or greater, and each is heavily used.

It also aims, as space and budget allow, to provide general-purpose classrooms that support chemistry-physics prep, a permanent home for chemistry-physics prep space, open student study spaces, and specialized classrooms or studios for the College of Arts and Architecture.

Current chemistry-physics prep classrooms at University Park are large, with a capacity of about 350. While they can be used for any purpose, priority is given to chemistry and physics, and the university currently only has four classrooms of that size.

“Creating additional CHEM-PHYS prep classrooms, including smaller ones, would allow the [general purpose classrooms] in the Forum Building to be used by other departments and allow chemistry and physics to be in a space that is more suitable to their needs,” according to a request for letters of interest from architects issued in December.

The project also will evaluate the cost-benefit of including art storage space in the renovated facility versus an off-site solution, according to the RFP.

“Keeping the existing art storage space in the repurposed Palmer is complicated by a variety of factors, including: the change of use for the remainder of the building away from art and museum used with different temperature and humidity controls; the existing building enclosure issues; the need to upgrade building systems in the art storage area; the need to keep the art storage up and running during construction; the huge amount of art within art storage; and the cost and logistics of moving art,” according to the document.

Museum staff also would need loading dock access to the art storage, and keeping it in the Curtin Road building may necessitate adding a new loading area.

The renovation will “maintain [the] existing exterior aesthetic of the building and entrance plaza,” according to the RFP, and will honor “the overall character of the existing/original lobby interior.”

“The angled, faux textured stone columns in the lobby are considered an integral part of the building’s design and one of several important components that contribute to architect Charles Moore’s vision of the space,” the document states. “Similarly, multiple large-scale scalloped blue decorative wall features and mirrored light features adorned with multi-colored tile, are distinctive to the 1991 Charles Moore design. As a part of this project, we will consider a range of design options for the lobby to test the level of transformation for the lobby aesthetic versus the extent of existing building character that should remain.”

Any changes to key architectural elements would be done in consultation with the university architect. Penn State officials previously said the lion paw sculptures outside the building will remain.

Ikon.5 architects, of New York, was appointed on May 6 by a screening committee as the architecture/engineering team for the Palmer repurposing. Construction management interviews are scheduled to take place in June.

A tentative schedule has construction starting in September 2025, with substantial completion by February 2027.

The project budget includes $30.4 million for construction, $7.9 million for soft costs and contingency and $2.1 million for furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

No additional details about the potential new Park Avenue classroom building have been made available.

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Geoff Rushton (

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

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