Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Powering up at the Lasch Building

One of the stars of Penn State’s new and improved football facilities is a backup defensive lineman from South Africa.

Jordan van den Berg may be the most well-traveled Nittany Lion and, according to head coach James Franklin, one of the most improved, as well.

He also exemplifies Penn State’s ongoing push to modernize, expand, and improve its football headquarters, known as the Lasch Building. Those renovations are part of a larger, campus-wide athletic facilities improvement campaign.

Van den Berg has recently starred on social media for his feats of strength in Penn State’s expanded and revamped weight room—from his stunning, one-arm save of a power clean lift to breaking Penn State’s all-time squat record (615 pounds, four repetitions). 

He’s the guy who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, went to high school in Georgia, and spent a year of junior college in Iowa. The high-energy, little-used, 300-pound defensive tackle could be on the verge of a football breakthrough. 

“This guy might be the most improved guy in our program, VERY proud of him!” is what Franklin tweeted in mid-July.

Van den Berg’s summer video clips on Twitter showed glimpses of Penn State’s overhauled weight room, which has nearly doubled in size. That work was part of a $48 million “Phase 1” Lasch renovation completed in late summer 2022. It included building entry enhancements and improved nutrition, player meeting, and lounge areas. 

The enlarged weight room includes an artificial turf strip for improved agility and stretching workouts and easier access to the accompanying outdoor practice field. 

The $22 million second phase of the Lasch-central renovations, which were approved by university officials this past spring, will focus on offices and meeting spaces on the second floor as well as expansion above the patio to create event space. 

Phase 2 also includes video and technology upgrades to Holuba Hall, the football team’s adjacent indoor practice facility, as well as minor enhancements to its outdoor practice field (additional goal post, netting, and play clock). Those should be ready by this month.

The Lasch renovations are part of a much larger university-wide sports facilities improvement push under Athletic Director Pat Kraft and President Neeli Bendapudi.

Renovations continue on office and meeting rooms at the Lasch Building. (Photo by Chuck Fong)

That larger plan includes a $70 million first-stage renovation for Beaver Stadium, focusing on priority maintenance projects, winterization, and architectural and design development. This initial work, which will include insulating pipes, will be completed over the next year. It will allow Penn State to comfortably host a potential cold-weather college football playoff game in December 2024.

Additional approved athletic projects include a student training table and wellness center at the Greenberg Indoor Sports Center, a new soccer complex at Jeffrey Field, and a multi-use indoor practice facility. 

The projects will be financed and paid for entirely by Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics. No tuition dollars or educational budget funds will be used, according to university officials.  

“You’ve got to be able to go put your money where your mouth is,” Kraft said last winter. “If you are committed to go win a national championship, and I am in everything, then we have to be able to do it and find the resources.”

Beaver Stadium: The four-year, $700 million renovation is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2027 football season. 

Work will focus on the 63-year-old stadium’s west side, beginning with the demolition of the press box and stadium seating. The proposal calls for a rebuild of those stands, which will maintain bowl-style seating. Improvements will include additional chairback seating on the west lower level, as well as luxury amenities, suites, and loge boxes with theater-style seating. 

Restrooms, concessions, and stadium WiFi facilities also will be upgraded.

Construction would impact just one season of football, resulting in a “minimal” reduction in seating capacity, according to Kraft.

Greenberg Indoor Sports Center: The former ice hockey home will house a 38,000-square-foot training table—serving meals and housing fitness and recovery spaces. It is being touted as a hub for Penn State’s 800-plus student-athletes in all thirty-one varsity sports.

Jeffrey Field: Penn State men’s and women’s soccer is being overhauled, finally giving the programs an all-encompassing headquarters. The new 24,000-square-foot-facility will include an operations center, locker rooms, offices, and training and treatment facilities. The soccer stadium will be renovated, as well, and parking will be improved.

Currently, both soccer programs are housed in Rec Hall, and teams are transported by bus to Jeffrey Field on game day.

Indoor practice facility: This seasonal, air-supported facility, or “bubble,” will be utilized by various varsity athletic programs. It is intended to help alleviate increasing “scheduling stress” for practice, particularly in the winter and early spring months. T&G

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record.