A landscape view of Bigler Hall in East Halls

Design work begins on expansion and renovation of East Halls

Design work on the renovation and expansion of East Halls, the largest residential complex on the University Park campus, has begun with groundbreaking for the first phase of the project slated for January 2016.

The project will take place in phases, starting with construction of a new 336-bed residence hall and renovation of Stuart Hall. The target completion date for both the renovated Stuart Hall and new residence hall is August 2017.

Clayco Inc. of St. Louis is the project builder, with DLA of Pittsburgh and Mackey Mitchell Architects as building designers. The design-build team, approved by the Board of Trustees in November 2014, is currently working with Penn State on the building and landscaping plans. The entire first phase of the project, which includes construction of the new residence hall, renovation of five existing buildings and landscaping improvements, will cost an estimated $152 million.

Along with increasing the capacity of East Halls, the project will modernize the facilities, bringing the bedrooms, bathrooms, dining commons and shared spaces up to contemporary expectations. East Halls was built in the 1960s, and students' needs and standards have changed since then.

The new residence halls will have air conditioning, public kitchens, seminar rooms, quiet study lounges, music practice rooms and meditation rooms. Buildings will have private bathrooms arranged in a cluster on every floor. Student rooms will feature modular furniture that can be adjusted and rearranged -- a major change from current residence halls.

"Right now all of the furniture except for the student's chair is locked in place," said Conal Carr, director of Housing Operations at University Park. "In the 1960s, when residence halls were being built throughout the country, the government was subsidizing some of the costs. Anything attached was considered part of the building and eligible for subsidization, so they attached everything they could."

The project's design will build on the successes of recent renovations at South Halls and feedback received from students. Students at a March 2015 open house for the last two renovated halls in the South Halls project, praised the design including the kitchens, private bathrooms, air conditioning and lounges.

"It's beautiful -- it's like a hotel," said Miranda Sill, a transfer student. "Carpeted hallways, floors that are like wood in the rooms. We have a thermostat, which is a wonderful luxury. The suite bathrooms are really nice. The floor is very quiet -- not like a typical freshman floor. It has a nice area for studying, and is very conducive to learning."

The area will have outdoor gathering areas and walkways. Inside, Findlay Dining Commons will gain a two-story atrium, and the second floor will feature a mix of all-you-care-to-eat stations and retail food areas such as a salad station, pizza, Asian, deli and sushi. An allergen-free station will offer gluten-free options as well as selections free of other common food allergens. Groundbreaking is slated for January 2016, followed by remodeling on different sections with completion planned for August 2017.

East Halls has a total of 14 residential halls that house first-year students. Renovations to the remaining nine residential buildings will begin after the first phase. When completed, East Halls will have the capacity to house 4,570 students.

All final plans for the projects, beginning with construction of a new residence hall, will be brought to the Board of Trustees for approval.