In this highly competitive environment, it has never been more important to provide our students with access to facilities that support their intellectual and social development. Pitt-Johnstown has long been recognized for its outstanding facilities, yet we realize that we must constantly strive to ensure that those areas continue to meet the needs of our campus community, with our priority, first and foremost, being on our academic facilities.
To maintain our competitive edge, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown has just completed phase one of a three-year, $15 million plan to upgrade academic facilities. In addition, $6 million has been invested over the past three years in upgrading residential, recreational, and dining facilities on our campus. All of the projects are in direct response to needs identified through our strategic planning process, primarily through the work of the Facilities, Infrastructure, and Technology Task Force, which engaged faculty, staff, students, and alumni in assessing our most-pressing needs. In addition to the benefits to the campus community, the projects offer far-reaching benefits for the larger community by contributing significantly to the area's economic development.
Pitt-Johnstown Faculty Senate President Brian Houston commented on the recent renovations by saying, "Overall I have been impressed by the modern look of the new facilities, including the massive renovation of the Student Union. I think it is vital to attracting students that Pitt Johnstown not only have contemporary housing, but to make sure that administrative and academic facilities follow suit and keep pace with, or stay ahead of, the times." Jacob Harper, president of the Staff Activities and Concerns Association remarked, "The improvements over the past summer have provided new opportunities for staff, faculty, and students and continue to increase the beauty of our campus and pride in our campus community." Student Government Association President Jacob Shirk commented, "The project is a great demonstration of the University's continuous efforts to create a better environment for the students despite the current economic times."
This summer, nearly $2 million was invested in upgrading classrooms, dining facilities, social spaces, and technology infrastructure. Among the academic enhancement projects completed over the past several months are:
- The Engineering and Science Building was the first academic facility to undergo a significant upgrade. As part of phase I of a major upgrade, all classrooms in the building have been converted to technology-ready classrooms, featuring the latest in instructional technology. The Engineering and Science Building is our campus's first entirely technology-ready academic building. As part of the renovation project, new flooring, lighting, and furniture were installed in each of the rooms. Phase II of the plan will occur upon completion of the Health Science and Nursing facility, which will be connected to the existing Engineering and Science Building. This will provide additional square footage for use by the chemistry and biology departments. Additional renovations will be made to the Engineering and Science Building.
- A sizable portion of Blackington Hall has undergone significant renovation to accommodate Pitt-Johnstown's new nursing program. In addition to classroom space, a state-of-the-art simulation lab has been created, providing students with an opportunity to develop and practice skills in a simulated environment before applying them in a real-life clinical setting. This facility will be used until the Health Sciences and Nursing facility is complete. This fall marks the first incoming class of nursing majors at Pitt-Johnstown.
- All of the existing technology-ready classrooms have been upgraded to include a consistent interface, greatly enhancing the ease of use by faculty. The facilities also feature the ability to communicate directly with the Information Technology Help Desk in real-time. Over the next two years, the campus plans to convert all of the remaining classrooms to technology-ready facilities.
- All campus classrooms are scheduled to be refurnished in the coming weeks as part of Pitt-Johnstown's largest classroom enhancement project. Traditional side-arm desks are being replaced with tables and chairs. In addition to accommodating the increasing number of students who are using laptop computers in the classroom, the new furniture provides students with more desktop space and more comfortable seating.
Next year, work will begin on the new 20,000 square-foot Health Sciences and Nursing Building. In addition to creating classroom and laboratory space for use by biology, chemistry, and nursing, the new facility will provide much-needed faculty office space through the creation of approximately 20 offices. A working group representing faculty, staff, and students is being assembled to make recommendations on the design of the new facility. Faculty representatives to that group include Drs. Janet Grady, Lisa Bell-Loncella, Stephen Kilpatrick, Daniel Santoro, and Steven Stern. I encourage you to contact any of the working group members with ideas that you have regarding needs for the building. The $11 million project received a significant boost from the Commonwealth in the form of $4 million as part of the Put Pennsylvania to Work initiative.
In the next two years, significant enhancements will be made to the two remaining academic buildings, Biddle and Krebs Halls. These enhancements will include conversion of both buildings to technology-ready facilities.
Several auxiliary spaces have been upgraded over the summer. These investments in recreation and dining facilities have largely been made possible through the efficient management of resources, generous external support from the Commonwealth and Sodexo, and donor support. The following projects have been completed, or are near completion:
- Construction has surpassed the half-way point on the eagerly awaited Wellness Center. The 40,000-square-foot facility, being constructed as a cost of $9.7 million, is scheduled for completion later this semester. In addition to a climbing wall, the facility will include an elevated three-lane running track; cardiovascular and strength-training areas, dance space, and two multipurpose courts for basketball and volleyball.
- Pitt-Johnstown's wrestling team will soon have access to a training facility fitting a nationally ranked, championship squad. As part of the Sport Center expansion, which includes the addition of the Wellness Center, the wrestling room is being expanded to double the square footage in the facility.
- The Student Union has undergone an extensive renovation. In addition to major upgrades in the main dining hall, which includes the addition of Magellan's, Mongolian-style grill, the entire Tuck Shop area has been renovated to make room for additional dining options including Salsa Rico, Simply to Go, and an expanded Subway. The Fall Term also marked the grand opening of Brioche Doreé, a European-style café featuring upscale fresh-baked pastries, sandwiches and salads. The café is located in the expanded food court area.
- The Varsity Café, located in the Living/Learning Center, has undergone a major facelift and is the new home of Jazzman's Café, which had previously been located in the Student Union. The new location provides students, faculty, staff, and visitors with a convenient and highly popular café concept creatively merged into the Varsity Café dining space.
- Work is nearing completion on a new outdoor park called University Square. The park, which creates outdoor gathering space for students, alumni, and visitors, will feature a gazebo, lighting and seating. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is being planned for September 21, during Homecoming week.
When asked about the renovations, Sara Harper, president of the Pitt-Johnstown Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, said, "Compared to last year, a lot has really been done to improve the campus and create a much more pleasant atmosphere. The outdoor gathering space [University Square] is really needed and I think it is a big improvement to campus. It makes the campus much more appealing to the eye, and makes it great for students to be able to sit outside and enjoy the great weather and take advantage of the surroundings."
Projects completed over the past three years include: interior renovations to Larkspur, Foxfire, Woodland, Heather lodges; conversion of all residential facilities, with exception to the townhouses, from key to swipe-card access; the addition of Campus Police call boxes; expanded lighting; and upgrades to the campus's residential computing network (ResNet). Additionally, a seven-year plan has been developed with the Housing and Residence Life department and Student Government Association to further enhance campus residential facilities. The projects, which will be completed based upon availability of resources, will potentially invest an additional $3 million into the campus.
Quite clearly, we have made a much more comfortable place for our students to learn, live, and, yes, have some fun along the way. These investments in our future do not solve all of our facility issues; there is still much to be done. However, we are confident that we have made major strides toward preserving our competitive edge and maintaining appropriate facilities to retain our current students and attract future students.