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Trustee Committee OKs Plans for New Penn State Engineering Building, Chiller Plant Expansion

by on September 17, 2020 5:19 PM

Plans for the first new academic and research building in the Penn State College of Engineering's multi-phase master plan moved forward on Thursday with a recommendation for approval by the Board of Trustees' Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning.

The plans and expenditure of funds require approval by the full board at its meeting on Friday afternoon.

Labeled Engineering Research and Teaching Space 2, the 105,000 gross square feet building on University Park's West Campus is budgeted at $88 million.

Bill Sitzabee, the vice president for facilities management and planning, said that although Penn State faces budget uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nature of the funding for the building and the bids in hand are why the university is moving forward with the project.

About $68 million for the project comes from state funding, money that would be lost if the university did not use it.

"The state funding piece is a significant part because we don’t want to hold up future state funding by not spending the funding they’ve allocated for us, and we’ve seen an increase year over year from the state over our traditional $40 million to $70 million, which is important," he said.

Additionally, bids received are about 6% under budget. Sitzabee said a delay would require rebidding that would potentially increase costs.

The new building will be constructed adjacent to the West Campus Parking Deck currently under construction west of Leonhard Building and the Earth and Engineering Sciences Building. The deck is a place-setter for the rest of the master plan for West Campus, consolidating parking and allowing for surface lots to be used for construction of additional buildings.

Construction on Engineering Research and Teaching Space 2 is expected to begin in October and be completed in 2022. Sitzabee said it will clear a $70 million backlog of maintenance and renovation needs for Hammond Building and the Engineering Units, central campus buildings that will be demolished after completion of the new building. The Hammond and Engineering Unit sites are expected to be used in future phases for a plaza and two new buildings.

The new building will be used for flexible 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 a university news release.

It will house the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP); the Learning Factory; the Factory for Advanced Manufacturing Education (F.A.M.E.) Lab; and some research components of Architectural Engineering and Civil & Environmental Engineering. 

Open floor plans and a glass facade are designed to showcase "engineering on display,"

"This new, modern, iconic landmark building will be visitors’ introduction to the College of Engineering as the starting place for recruiting and orientation tours and home for all first-year engineering students," the project description that accompanied bid documents states.

State College Planning Commission reviewed the final plan in July.

Architecture firm Payette was appointed in 2019 to design two new engineering buildings on West Campus.

The second building that will be constructed — currently labeled West 1 — will be a 279,000 square foot facility with research labs, studios, general-purpose classrooms, departmental administration space, and faculty and graduate student offices. It will be sited north of the Earth and Engineering Sciences Building. 

Sitzabee said plans for that building will be brought to the board in the spring. A preliminary plan was submitted to State College Borough earlier this year.

It also will receive substantial state funding — $163 million of the estimated $200 million project cost. 

Private fundraising for both buildings has been combined with a target of $30 million. About $13 million has been raised so far with "good potential" identified for the remaining, Sitzabee said.

In addition to the parking deck and two new buildings, phase I of the College of Engineering Master Plan also includes a renovation and addition to Sackett Building on central campus.

The total estimated cost for phase one design, construction, renovation and demolition is projected at $370 million.

Since 2008, undergraduate enrollment in the College of Engineering has increased by 43%, while the graduate student population has grown by 7%. Engineering research expenditures are the largest in the university's portfolio, growing by 50% to  $117 million in just three years.

"The Penn State engineering facilities have not kept pace with the growth of numbers and complexity of our research," Sitzabee said. "Our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and researchers is significantly impacted by the quality of facilities and will have a long lasting impact on whether we remain one of the best engineering colleges in the nation and world."

West Campus Chiller Expansion

The committee also recommended approval of a $9.5 million project to expand the West Campus Chiller Plant at University Park.

Penn State has been in the process of centralizing cooling systems for new and existing buildings, with more than two dozen recently or planned to be added to the central system.

Sitzabee said the process is reducing maintenance costs and increasing efficiency. A centralized system, he said, is about 40% more efficient than distributed systems and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to long-term sustainability goals.

"Centralizing our campus chiller system is significantly more efficient than operating in a distributed mode," Sitzabee said.

The expansion will add a new 3,000-ton chiller, four new cooling towers, a new chilled water pump, a new condenser water pump and new supporting equipment.

The project will be funded through education and general borrowing and will be financed through the issuance of bonds, Sitzabee said. Though the cost is below the threshold requiring board approval, bond issue does require trustees' consent.

Sitzabee said borrowing is typically focused on larger projects, but because the university has received significant state funding for the College of Engineering buildings, it is being used to finance some smaller projects instead.

Trefz Engineering, of Horsham, designed the chiller plant expansion.


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