Trustees committee recommends approval of plans, funds for West 2 building

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the next stage of a proposed, decade-long initiative that will transform the Penn State College of Engineering and its facilities, the Board of Trustees Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning today (Sept. 17) recommended for approval final design plans and authorized expenditures of $88 million for a new research and teaching building near the western edge of the University Park campus.

The proposal goes to the full board for consideration on Sept. 18.

Payette, an architecture firm from Boston, was appointed in late 2019 to design two new engineering buildings. After a highly competitive selection process, Payette was chosen based on its work with similar projects, including the Science Center at Amherst College, the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex at Northeastern University and the Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.  

The building now approved for construction, currently known as West 2, will provide approximately 105,000 gross square feet to be used as flexible classrooms, multi-use design studios, “cornerstone to capstone” maker spaces, a high-bay research lab, faculty offices and research cores to benefit all College of Engineering disciplines. It will be built adjacent to the West Campus Parking Deck, which is currently under construction to the west of Leonhard Building and the Earth and Engineering Sciences Building on West campus. Construction on West 2 is expected to begin in October. 

“Penn State engineers develop solutions to society’s greatest challenges, ranging from health to transportation to water, food, energy and security,” said Justin Schwartz, the Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering. “As these challenges continue to escalate across the world, and demand for a Penn State engineering education continues to rise, upgraded facilities will help to foster the creative collaboration that results in leading-edge research and exceptional instruction. We are committed to leading the nation in high-quality engineering education, and this new building has been designed to facilitate world-class engineering education pedagogy.” 

According to Schwartz, the design of West 2 aggressively targets the reduction of energy use with a combination of high-performance building materials and systems, incorporating sustainable goals that support the productivity and well-being of occupants, while serving as a teaching tool aligned with the values of Penn State engineers.

The College of Engineering has seen significant growth over the past decade. Today, Engineering enrolls nearly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students at University Park and more than 2,500 students across Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses. The college’s undergraduate enrollment has grown by nearly 50% over the past decade. In fiscal year 2020, engineering research expenditures exceeded $117 million — a 50% growth increase in just three years and the largest research portfolio of any of the Penn State academic colleges.

Construction of West 2 is one aspect of a broader proposed, multi-phase facilities master plan for the college that includes in phase one construction of a second new building to the west of North Atherton Street, renovations to Sackett Building and the demolition of Hammond Building along College Avenue and the Engineering Units behind Hammond.

The total estimated cost for phase one design, construction, renovation and demolition is projected at $370 million, with the University and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as primary funding sources. Additionally, a capital campaign is underway to provide further project support. According to Schwartz, the facilities plan implementation will help mitigate the college’s most pressing space limitations, as well as provide an opportunity to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure to support research. 

“As we transform our footprint on campus, we will be even better equipped to recruit and retain the best faculty, researchers and students, allowing us to have a long-lasting impact as one of the best engineering colleges with strong educational programs and advanced research capabilities,” Schwartz said. “These are more than buildings; they are opportunities for our faculty and students to impact society in a deeply meaningful way.”

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