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The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.



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Vanessa Ceravolo, a junior majoring in Family and Childhood Studies, relaxes in her room in the recently renovated Schneider Hall at La Roche College.

 

LA ROCHE COLLEGE

Over the past year, La Roche student designers acquired hands-on experience in helping to re-imagine campus dorm rooms, as renovation of residence halls continued at the college in McCandless. Functionality and comfort were priorities, but the goal also was to improve gathering spaces and create more community interaction among students.

Additional renovation around the campus at the Zappala College Center, Ryan Room and Cantellops Art Gallery also focuses on creating social space. This work follows the renovation of the Zappala College Center Square in summer 2015; the renovation in 2014 of the school’s outdoor athletic complex enabled the college to expand the number of sponsored teams, including the addition of women’s lacrosse during the 2015-16 school year.

Meanwhile, the first phase of renovating the Palumbo Science Center (built in 1980) was completed 10 months ago. It now offers students a modernized lecture hall and new classroom, with new lighting, sound system and tech upgrades. A second phase, in planning stages, would include new laboratories and office space.
 

PENN STATE UNIVERSITY

Penn State’s outreach and cooperative extension offices in Pittsburgh have merged into one high-tech, flexible space at the Energy Innovation Center. The opening of this central space for the Penn State Center Pittsburgh in May 2015 means further growth in “engaged scholarship opportunities” for faculty and students across all disciplines. This can mean anything from earth-science students traveling from State College to Pittsburgh for research or communications students doing hands-on work with nonprofit groups. 

Developing space at the center has been key because it has drawn the attention of faculty throughout the Penn State system. More teachers discovering that they can bring students to the center means more students will benefit from hands-on and networking opportunities there. The plan: to serve approximately 250 students in “engaged scholarship” programs this year and a growing number in the future.

One Penn State initiative that’s grown out of work at the center: A pilot program expected to be unveiled this fall and launched in the spring that would offer a regional version of a “study-abroad” experience. Students who have grown up and studied solely in rural and suburban areas will be invited to apply for a “study-away” semester in Pittsburgh, taking a full course load of in-person and online courses while working in their areas of study and delving into urban life.

Deno DeCiantis, director of Penn State’s EIC office, points out that more than 80 percent of the American population live and work in urban areas. But many college students study and prepare for adult life within the bubble of a rural college campus. The program aims to remedy that with a semester of cultural discovery, real-world work experience and college classes.
 


Exterior of Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation in Downtown Pittsburgh.

 

POINT PARK UNIVERSITY

One of the local academic community’s most exciting new spaces is the 4,000-square-foot Center for Media Innovation, opening in September at Point Park. After a dramatic, $2.5 million makeover, this former Nathan’s Hot Dog shop Downtown now is sheathed in floor-to-ceiling glass windows that invite passers-by to discover the high-tech newsroom and TV studio inside. A news ticker outside already drew a crowd months before the official opening, scheduled for Sept. 13.
           
Students will be able to check out one of 25 laptop computers and use the graphics-production space and state-of-the-art TV, radio and photo studios to practice their craft in glass-enclosed spaces designed for a “fishbowl studio experience.” A central wall can pivot to create an open space for gallery exhibits, presentations and visits by industry speakers.

The Center is an academic laboratory, but it’s also intended to be an incubator and collaborative space for the region’s media professionals at all stages of their careers to develop new skills and mentor young journalists. It’s a creative space designed to meet a unique need: Teach the next generation of journalists to navigate an industry that continues to change at stunning speed, while reaching out to the local community as it grapples with the changing role of media in American life.
 


A contractor installs soundproofing materials to the ceiling in Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation.

 

“We really want to use the space to remind the public about the role of a free and independent media,” says center Director Andrew Conte, as well as create a “place where people come together to talk about important news events and about the business of journalism.” It’s a high-tech place with a very human goal: to become “a corner where Pittsburgh congregates.” 

Meanwhile, work continues on the Point Park University Pittsburgh Playhouse redesign, a $53 million building project that spans 1.6 acres of land on Forbes Avenue between Wood and Smithfield Streets. Slated to open in fall 2018, the 92,000-square-foot building will be able to run simultaneous performances in three theaters and offer outdoor performance space.

Students can expect an influx of guest speakers, increased performance opportunities and space for student-driven collaboration, plus extensive interaction with visiting artists. This modern theater also will connect student performers with Pittsburgh’s past: Three historical facades from Forbes Avenue have been carefully removed and will be reassembled as focal pieces of the new buildings, complete with markers detailing their history. Point Park has designed the Playhouse to be an academic amenity for students in every major as well as the wider Pittsburgh community.
 

ROBERT MORRIS UNIVERSITY

Pittsburghers have watched RMU grow exponentially from its roots as a business school for city commuters to a landmark campus with more than 2,000 resident students in the midst of suburban Moon Township. Its newest addition is Scaife Hall, the 30,000-square-foot home of its School of Nursing and Health Sciences, which opened in the spring. 

It includes a realistic, eight-bed clinical- performance suite in which students practice their skills, plus simulated primary-care offices, debriefing rooms, a Nuclear Medicine Technology Lab and a model apartment for students learning to care for a homebound patient or elderly person living independently. All offer unprecedented practical experience for students, school officials say. 

This new space also is being used as a training center for health care workers throughout the region, giving students a chance to interact with professionals in their field. Its benefits have rippled out to other majors: The nursing school’s previous space has been shifted to the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, RMU’s fastest-growing school. 

An announcement is expected soon about a new, 4500-seat arena, to be funded partially by corporate donors, that will house the men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball programs. It also would serve as a venue for concerts, conferences and other university and community events. RMU also is finalizing plans for residence halls and use of the space it has leased at the Energy Innovation Center, where students can expect to enroll in certificate programs and additional classes.
 

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

There’s construction on the horizon across many disciplines at Pitt, says Owen Cooks, assistant vice chancellor for planning, design and construction. Fields near Trees Hall on the upper campus in Oakland will get new synthetic turf this year, and one will be topped with a bubble dome to create a year-round recreation space. 

“Recreation space is at a premium” on Pitt’s urban campus, says Cooks, and the Trees Fields Project is designed to increase intramural sports and clubs sports for students. Ground has been broken for that project, scheduled for completion in early 2017. 

Elsewhere on campus, the recently renovated Clapp Hall science building has earned Silver LEED certification and is two points away from Gold. (That rating may get notched up soon.) Pitt, too, has leased space at the Energy Innovation Center, where it plans to conduct advanced engineering research. At least three Swanson School of Engineering faculty members will maintain labs there, and a dozen or more grad students and staff are expected to work with them in this new space equipped for a wide range of research.

Along with engineering, faculty who perform energy-related research in other Pitt departments — such as chemistry, geology or other sciences —  may use the university’s space in the center; it’s also available for incubation of energy-related startup companies. Work at the center will complement rather than replace research opportunities already available on campus.

On the horizon: Pitt announced in July the acquisition of a 2-acre site near the campus at One Bigelow Boulevard, which it intends to develop as a collaborative-innovation space. Formal planning and fundraising are underway, but few specifics are available. Cooks describes it as a “huge, huge investment for Pitt in the future” and significant for economic development in the region.  

Frequent contributor Melissa Rayworth is a freelance writer whose clients include The Associated Press and the parenting website WhatToExpect.com. A graduate of Cornell University, Rayworth is a resident of Hampton Township but currently spends much of the year living in Bangkok, Thailand, with her husband and children.
 

 

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