Penn State Construction, Whitmore Laboratory

A construction worker sits in a backhoe during construction around the Whitmore Laboratory Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

Currently working on well over a dozen construction projects across campus, Penn State is maintaining and updating its facilities for student and faculty use.

Projects range from the construction of brand new buildings like the Animal, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Building to renovations and updates on old buildings like the Pattee and Paterno Library.

However, the coronavirus pandemic altered daily life for universities across the United States, and the various projects across campus were not immune to setbacks, according to Fran Yeager, an executive assistant with Penn State’s Office of the Physical Plant.

“In conformance with the governor’s orders, construction at sites was halted for approximately six weeks in March and April 2020,” Yeager said via email. “The coronavirus has required everyone from contractors to owners to continuously adjust to changing work environments.”

Among the difficulties faced by workers are coronavirus-related travel restrictions, supply chain shortages and delayed shipments of materials, according to Yeager. Social distancing guidelines were another factor.

“From the limitation of shared spaces and the dedication of entry/egress pathways to how materials are delivered and stored, distancing has changed how we approach the work,” Yeager said. “These additional precautions have required more time, more planning and more documentation.”

Despite the challenges, Yeager and Bill Sitzabee — vice president of facilities management and planning and the chief facilities officer with OPP — was pleased with the outcome of coronavirus complications.

“I am very pleased that, in addition to our normal safety measures at construction sites, the construction community has come together and worked diligently to develop and implement robust COVID-19 safety protocols to comply with government and university guidelines,” Sitzabee said via email.

According to Yeager, many of the projects were able to “recover those weeks,” referring to the six weeks of halted construction at the onset of the pandemic. She attributed this to the “proven track records for quality and efficiency” held by many of the construction companies and workers.

“Things are not necessarily more difficult — just different,” Yeager said.

Here’s how several of the main projects on campus have fared during the pandemic.


Animal, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Building

Construction on the Animal, Veterinary and Biomedical Science Building — formerly known as the Henning Building — began in summer 2019.

The old building was demolished and the ground was broken on a new building.

According to a Penn State news release from the university in February 2018, the labs and vivarium previously housed in the building were “outdated and lack[ed] the ability to meet the research needs of faculty and students.” At the time of the article’s publication, several features of the building were also in need of replacement.

The new building will feature a large classroom space, a laboratory with updated equipment and new administrative spaces for faculty and staff. Accessible bathrooms will also be included in the reconstruction.

An estimated $97 million will be used to complete the project.

Construction is slated to end by the fall 2021 semester.

Beaver Stadium

Renovations to Beaver Stadium began in 2014 as a part of an operation deemed the “Beaver Stadium Maintenance Project,” according to Yeager.

The scope of the project is “deferred maintenance and minor upgrades” to the structure, which occur throughout the stadium as needed, Yeager said.

The Beaver Stadium Maintenance Project continued after new scoreboards were installed the same year, and in 2016 renovations to the West Press Box were completed and the field-level restrooms were updated.

According to Yeager, the project is “an ongoing maintenance project and will continue for years,” and will cost roughly $2.5 million.


Eisenhower Auditorium

Renovations on the Eisenhower Auditorium began in May 2020 as part of the university’s “phased implementation of facility improvements” initiated in 2015, according to Yeager.

The project includes upgrades to the Air Handling Units and various other mechanical system upgrades; upgrades to the emergency lighting system; and increased accessibility to the dressing rooms from both the outside of the building and from the stage.

Near the building, an abandoned cooling tower will be demolished and converted to a new entry for performers to the dressing area, according to a Penn State news release.

Simultaneously with the other renovations, a new roof will replace the old one on the building and asbestos will be removed carefully in the renovated areas.

The estimated cost of completion for the project is $6.8 million.

Substantial completion on the project is slated for January 2021 and the beginning of the spring semester, Yeager said.

These renovations will not be the only ones undertaken on the building, according to the news release. The university will pursue future projects to keep the building up to date.

James Building

Construction on the James Building — an off-campus structure that previously housed The Daily Collegian and offices for the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications — began on Oct. 28, 2019 with the demolition of the old building, according to Yeager.

The new building will house spaces correlated with the Penn State Innovation Hub, an aspect of the Invent Penn State initiative, as well as a new space for the Happy Valley LaunchBox — a facet of PNC Bank — according to a Penn State news release.

New office spaces will also be added for the dean of the College of Information Sciences and Technology and the dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Other features of the project will include classrooms; faculty office spaces; a virtual reality and immersive technology lab; workshops; common areas for students; and an underground parking structure that will fit 31 cars, according to the release.

The new building will be six stories high, 85,000 square feet and will cost an estimated $56.8 million.

Initially slated for completion on July 28, 2021, complications and challenges resulting from the coronavirus have pushed the substantial completion date for the project back to Sept. 19, 2021.


Paterno Library

Renovations to the elevators in the Paterno Library began in early October 2020, according to Yeager.

All major components of the elevators will be modernized, which include buttons, lights and every mechanical and electrical component except the cabs themselves.

Rick Riccardo, the associate director for facilities planning and construction with the Penn State University Libraries, has worked in the library for three years and quickly noticed a need for elevator updates.

“They had passed their point of efficiency,” Riccardo said. “There have been times that the elevators, just from overuse and overweight, would just stop.”

Safe, working elevators are integral for populated areas of the university, according to Yeager. She and Sitzabee both cite safety as one of OPP’s main goals.

“Replacement is necessary to maintain the integrity of the mechanics of the elevators so they can be operated safely,” Yeager said.

The pandemic provided OPP with the necessary circumstances to begin work on the elevators, Riccardo said.

“Pattee — and Paterno — is probably one of the most visited buildings on campus, so therefore, we need to have reliable elevators,” Riccardo said. “[OPP] took advantage of the lower occupancy and the ability for contractors on site to be able to get [to the elevators] and do very, very disruptive work without disruption.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, the elevators in the library have only been used by faculty and staff, as the upper levels are closed to students.

Riccardo believes the renovation of the library’s elevators is the most important project completed at the library during his tenure there. He cites circulation and efficient traffic flow as the most important factors of library operations.

In total, the project will cost an estimated $1.5 million and is predicted to be completed by the end of March 2021.


Willard Building

Renovations to the Willard Building began in March 2018, aimed at consolidating spaces dedicated to the Bellisario College of Communications, according to Yeager.

The project will include spaces for every major in the college, as well as studios for the Penn State Office of Strategic Communications, according to a Penn State news release.

Other additions will include film and video workspaces, radio broadcast studios, student collaboration spaces, the university’s Media Effects Research Laboratory and various office spaces for both the Bellisario College of Communications and the College of the Liberal Arts.

Yeager said infrastructure will be replaced throughout the building, which was constructed in 1949.

Marie Hardin, the dean of the Bellisario College of Communications, expressed her gratitude to OPP for its work and resilience on the project. She emphasized the necessity of the project for the college and its usefulness to the university as a whole.

“We need the facilities to allow our great faculty and great students to really reach their potential,” Hardin said. “It’s time for us to move into a situation that allows us to do the kind of entrepreneurial, innovative, cross-collaborative work that we’re going to be able to do in Willard.”

Several complications from the coronavirus delayed work on the building, including the two-month lockdown period in the state of Pennsylvania and reduced staffing capacity upon the lockdown’s termination, according to Hardin.

“The pandemic has dramatically slowed this project,” Hardin said. “On the other hand, the pandemic has also put us in a position where, if the media center were open right now… we wouldn’t be able to use it to its fullest potential anyway.”

Despite the complications and delays, Hardin said she remains optimistic about the project’s completion given the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus.

“We are making the most of this delay,” Hardin said. “This delay is allowing us to think and plan, to use the time in thinking and planning about ways to use the media center and to integrate it into our strategic plan as a [college] in perhaps ways we had not considered before.”

The original completion date set for the project was fall 2020.

Discrepancies are presented in the dates of the project. Yeager cites the beginning of construction as March 2018, while the news release cites it as December 2018. Hardin cites the beginning of construction as even later in early 2019.

Estimated at $48 million, the project’s date for completion has shifted numerous times as a result of complications from the coronavirus, according to Yeager. The most recent date OPP released to the Collegian is June 2021.

As construction and renovation projects throughout the university enter varying stages in their completion, the coronavirus will continue to impact the day-to-day operations of contractors and workers.

Delays are expected in several of the projects, such as the James and Willard Buildings, and OPP will continue to provide updates as complications and new information arise.

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