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.

Looking up at the newly remodeled rotunda in West Hall at CCAC-Allegheny Campus. West Hall is being repurposed as the campus Cultural & Fine Arts Center. Originally called Memorial Hall, it was completed in 1912/Photos by Martha rial


Pittsburgh has been a center of higher learning since the earliest days of America’s history, and as our city has grown and evolved over the centuries, so too have our many colleges and universities. Yet seldom has so much new growth been so visible on so many of the region’s campuses, sprouting from the midst of construction cranes and scaffolds. The needs of, and opportunities presented by, higher education are much different in 2016 than they were when these institutions were established — and, as evidence of the city’s continued commitment to learning, changes are coming quickly. From the city’s epicenter out into its suburbs, college and university leaders are creating new spaces, reimagining older buildings and developing cutting-edge cooperative hubs where industry, academia and nonprofit organizations come together to innovate.

Chef Dean Morris prepares lunch in the teaching kitchen at the Esther Barazzone Center at Chatham University's Eden Hall campus. 


While these projects vary widely in scope and specifics, several common threads run through aspects of these varied developments:

  • Flexible use of space with an eye toward the future. New and renovated buildings at many area campuses have moving walls and flexible enclosures that can morph intimate meeting spaces into open performance and event halls at the touch of a button. Students need tech-equipped classrooms for lectures and video conferences, but they also need flexible spaces to collaborate, interact socially and develop innovative projects.
  • Ongoing commitment to the environment — often demonstrated by striving for top levels of LEED certification — coupled with an equally deep commitment to preserving historic spaces and honoring Pittsburgh history.
  • Clear priorities for real-world work environments and opportunities for increased connections between students and professionals in their fields. Even in our digital world, physical proximity and face-to-face networking still change lives.

That last point may be the one the region’s schools are most powerfully embracing. To capitalize on the “water-cooler effect” that can come only from being in the same building, many local post-secondary institutions have established a presence at the Energy Innovation Center overlooking Downtown from the Lower Hill District.

The center is a LEED Platinum-Certified and Historic Preservation of what formerly was the Connelley Vocational Trade School, where generations of Pittsburgh Public School students came to learn skilled trades. It now brings together educators, private corporations and community-based organizations to pursue next-level energy research, technology development, workforce training and community development.

At institutions elsewhere in western Pennsylvania, numerous ventures also are underway or newly wrapped. Read on to learn more about the highlights and projected benefits these projects aim to provide for current and future students.


It’s been less than a year since Carlow unveiled the renovation of its 82,500-square-foot, five-story Grace Library building. Completed at a cost of $19.9 million, the project redesigned the space to create the University Commons, a hub of student life and services that has earned Silver LEED certification — a notable accomplishment for a refurbished space originally constructed in 1970.

The old library occupied three full floors. The school’s modern, digital library needs just a little more than one floor (and yes, it’s still stocked with plenty of books), freeing up space for the Rita McGinley Center for Student Success (named for the Carlow alumna from the Class of 1940) and consolidating other student services under one roof. Here, students can get peer tutoring, advanced instruction in writing academic papers and research methods, and additional academic support. One added benefit: That peer support strengthens a sense of community at Carlow, as does the building’s Frank B. Fuhrer Cafe. This flexible space serves as a social area and cafeteria with walls that open to host film screenings, academic talks, student performances and other events.

Also in the building, the Hopkins Communications Lab enables students in any department to create professional-level multimedia presentations or record themselves presenting to an audience, then watch the video to fine-tune their delivery. Group-discussion rooms contain two-way mirrors so faculty members can observe student interaction without interfering with discussions. The school’s career development office, also located within the Commons, can use these studios to hold mock job interviews and post-interview critiques with each student.

With so much flexible multimedia space for students in every major, “We’re only beginning to scratch the surface on what we can use it for,” says Carlow Director of Media Relations Drew Wilson.

A contractor walks around the newly restored rotunda at the CCAC -Allegheny Campus.



“It’s just a construction site around here,” says Elizabeth Johnston, executive director of public relations and marketing at CCAC, as she offers up a list of recent projects and new ones on the horizon. On the Allegheny Campus in the North Side, the first phase of the Ridge Avenue Revitalization Project is complete; highlights include upgrades to the physical education building that include an enhanced fitness center and student lounge, an expanded bookstore and a new on-campus Starbucks for caffeine-hungry students.

Other renovations include the addition of computer labs as well as the transformation of historic West Hall into a new cultural and fine arts center, scheduled to open this fall. This building offers students expanded space for art, music, speech, language and criminal-justice classes, as well as an art gallery and performance space, pairing modern amenities with preserved architecture honoring Pittsburgh’s past. 

At the school’s South Campus in West Mifflin, a new access road has improved traffic flow and safety, and a new sidewalk and nature trails await students and staff this fall. Meanwhile, classes started in the spring at CCAC’s space within the Energy Innovation Center, a laboratory with an edgy, Warhol-esque design. Hybrid classroom/labs offer credit and noncredit skilled-trade courses, including the study of solar energy systems. Students also can seek networking opportunities with engineering and energy-industry professionals throughout the complex.  

On the horizon: A study is underway to examine the feasibility of creating a new workforce-development center in Donora. CCAC also unveiled design concepts in June for a workforce-development center at the Allegheny Campus that would be unlike anything the school has built. That potential project, at least five years from construction, would offer a variety of options — from STEM classes and welding to an expanded culinary-arts program with a student-run restaurant and greenhouse, plus a multipurpose event space that would take advantage of stunning views from Monument Hill.

Crates used for gathering produce rest in front of a hoop house at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus in Richland Township. Hoop houses can extend crop-growing seasons



In April, Chatham completed the first phase of construction of its 388-acre Eden Hall campus in Richland Township with the opening of the Esther Barazzone Center. This 23,000-square-foot multipurpose space, designed to exceed LEED Platinum standards, is the heart of Chatham’s cutting-edge “sustainable campus” and home of the Falk School of Sustainability. It includes a dining hall, a sun-lit commons area and a commercial teaching kitchen. 

This fall, more than 125 students are expected to attend classes and tackle research at the Falk School. They’ll make use of high-tech aquaculture and aquaponics labs, a certified organic farm and root cellar, a demonstration garden and a solar greenhouse, all designed to help students break ground in researching sustainable food production and fishing. And students in the expanding Food Studies program at Eden Hall will go beyond the campus, gaining work experience in the city and the region; past student contributions have included helping the Pittsburgh Public Schools improve school lunches and building a community bread oven in Braddock.

On Chatham’s main campus in Shadyside, work is ongoing to keep up with growth in enrollment since the school switched from all-women to co-ed enrollment at the undergraduate level in 2014. No new construction is underway, but the university continues to renovate existing residence and teaching spaces to accommodate more students.

At Carnegie Mellon University, the shadow of a crane overlooks the five-story, 305,000-square-foot Tepper Quadrangle building, scheduled to open in fall 2018.



You’ve probably noticed CMU’s colossal construction site along Forbes Avenue in Oakland, where work is underway on Tepper Quad. (You also can watch developments at this monster construction site via a live webcam at The quad, when complete, is meant to be a crossroads for the entire campus community, elevating cross-discipline collaboration and increasing opportunities for students to interact with industry leaders and community partners in their chosen fields. At its heart is a 305,000-square-foot building designed to house the Tepper School of Business, the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship and other executive education and technology-enhanced learning initiatives. It also will be home to a planned 600-seat auditorium, a new university welcome center, a fitness center and dining facilities.

The total price tag exceeds $200 million, and the school continues to raise funds in support of this massive project. The current forecast has Tepper Quad complete and ready for students in fall 2018.

In the meantime, students arriving at CMU this semester will find three other developments: The 62,000-square-foot Jared L. Cohon University Center held a soft opening of its new addition in mid-May and plans a grand opening this fall. It offers students improved recreation and creative opportunities through a space for fitness, plus a studio theater available to student groups and small-scale productions.

Work also is completed on Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott Hall, a 109,000-square-foot building at the College of Engineering that enhances the College of Engineering’s innovation culture and offers students space for interdisciplinary research. Expansion of Hamburg Hall continues, offering Heinz College students a new 150-seat lecture hall. Next steps: flexible classrooms, group and individual study spaces, a glass-enclosed courtyard, student-project rooms and a cafe.

Students study Spanish in one of Duquesne University’s new FlexTech classrooms, which use state-of-the-art technology to encourage collaborative learning. The glass tables in the new classrooms can serve as whiteboards.



Duquesne’s innovative FlexTech classrooms recently earned the Harman Innovation Award — honoring innovative use and best practices of audio-visual and information technology at colleges and universities nationwide — at the annual UBTech Conference, which focuses on emerging trends and leaders in higher-education technology. Their design has caught the attention of educators nationwide, who are requesting tours of the cutting-edge classrooms on the campus in the Bluff. In these rooms, groups of four to six students sit in pods at glass-top tables equipped with USB-charging stations, where they can share digital content and connect tablets or laptops to wall-mounted, flat-panel monitors. 

Two more FlexTech classrooms were constructed over the summer, bringing the total in use this fall to seven rooms. At the Energy Innovation Center, Duquesne is among the co-founders of the Citizen Science Lab, which focuses on providing hands-on science for students in local secondary schools who otherwise might not have that opportunity. Although weekend workshops and memberships are open to the entire Pittsburgh community, college students have unlimited access to the lab and can apply for internships to build specific skills.

Military-veteran students will find a newly renovated Veterans Center, thanks to a nearly $7,000 grant from Home Depot and the Students Veterans of America’s nationwide Vet Center Initiative. This networking and study space includes a new computer workstation and a wall-mounted TV equipped for video conferencing; it is intended to serve as a hub for this community of students.


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



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.


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.


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 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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