In 2006, Penn had a vision.
Anne Papageorge, Penn’s vice president for Facilities and Real Estate Services, says the first phase of the campus blueprint, called Penn Connects, made the goals of President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact real.
“It took increased access, the cross-disciplinary education and research, and the community engagement-global engagement goals of the Penn Compact and created a physical framework … in which those activities would occur,” says Papageorge.
In the past half-dozen years, Penn Connects projects have literally transformed the University. New construction, such as the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, and Weiss Pavilion changed the skyline of campus. Significant renovations to the Music Building, DuBois College House, and the first phase of the Penn Museum’s West Wing project (among others) have given beloved buildings a second life.
The second phase of the plan, Penn Connects 2.0, promises to be just as transformative.
“Penn Connects 2.0 is an updated, renewed vision for the next five years and the 20 years beyond that,” Papageorge says. “There are things in it that are new, but there are many things in it that are a continuation of the principles of the original plan … teaching and research, the living-learning environment and connectivity—the connections to our community and also to Center City—and lastly, our future growth.”
One major project, Penn Park, which opened in the fall of 2011, has changed the eastern side of campus by replacing surface parking lots with a green oasis.
Additionally, the recent acquisition of the South Bank lands, formerly the DuPont Marshall Laboratory site along Grays Ferry Avenue, promises to transform Penn’s southern edge, as well [read about the South Bank project here].
In all, a bevy of new construction, renovations, streetscape, and open space plans will reshape Penn’s campus in the immediate future and for the decades to come.
The Current recently sat down with Papageorge to discuss Penn Connects 2.0, including some of the projects that will be completed this year and next, the importance of sustainability, and how the economic downturn has affected the plan.
Q. What are some of the signature projects in Penn Connects 2.0?
A. I’ll start with teaching and research—the single largest project is the Singh Nanotechnology Building, and we are very close to completing the envelope, meaning the exterior skin. We will complete the new building in January of 2013 and then we will demolish the Edison Building and complete the plaza in the gateway component, and that will be done for the fall [of 2013]. The schools of Engineering and Arts and Sciences will begin to occupy the building in the spring.
The other significant project in the academic arena is Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall. The Wharton School is renovating two classrooms and creating a faculty office space and conference space off of 37th Street and the classrooms will be done at the end of this calendar year for the next semester. The remaining building will be completed next summer for the  fall semester.
On the research side, the three floors in the Translational Research Center that were shelled in the original project are being completed by the end of this year, and the Hospital has begun the South Pavilion expansion project.
On the living-learning side, we just opened Shoemaker Green, which is an addition of another three acres of open space, and just this summer [we] started construction on Spruce Street Plaza, which begins to improve that gateway onto our campus by creating an open space as you arrive at Penn Medicine.
At South Bank, we are actively in design on a new Data Center that will serve both the Hospital and the University. It will be a state-of-the-art facility but also a more sustainable, high-performance facility than the current center that we occupy on Walnut Street. [We are also doing] other small projects, from warehouse storage to the working dogs program, and creating a framework for tech transfer. We have several small incubator-type occupants that see this as an opportunity for lower cost space. There are other discussions going on for possible new construction or renovation of some of the existing buildings.
I would add the new College House [on Hill Field]; an announcement of the naming gift is planned for October and we are finishing up schematic design and moving into design development.
Q. The word ‘connects’ is in the name of the plan, but can you explain how this plan actually does connect Penn to the city?
A. I think that Penn Park obviously was a major gesture to the larger community because it’s not only a facility that serves Penn’s athletic needs, but is also heavily used by the broader Philadelphia community.
I received an email about Spruce Street Plaza opening up, [from] a resident of West Philadelphia, who used to be a Penn employee, saying how thousands of times he’s driven by that gateway and he’s so thrilled to see that it’s now going to be something appropriate. He’s not a landscape architect, not an architect, but somebody who lives in the neighborhood and who really wants to see these connections be more generous to the pedestrian and not just to the utilitarian vehicles that have to come and go.
I also think that the South Bank investment is going to be the catalyst for the city’s broader Lower Schuylkill plans and we’ve worked very closely with [the] City Planning [Commission] and PIDC [Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation] and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger to make sure that what we were planning to do worked within their broader framework. I think that is a very important initiative because right now, when you come from the airport to Penn or Center City, it’s not a very pleasant gateway to our city and so I think that we’re the seed that will start it and then it will continue southward towards the airport.
Greenworks is a significant initiative of Mayor [Michael] Nutter’s and all of our Climate Action Plan goals are in sync with Greenworks, between our high-performance buildings and our storm water efforts at Shoemaker Green, Penn Park and other smaller spots, but also the energy conservation work that we’re doing. Ken Ogawa on my team is on the energy board [Philadelphia Energy Authority], I was on the Zoning Code Commission, and the sustainability advisory board, Dan Garofalo sits on the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. I think many of our initiatives are closely aligned with both the city and the region’s goals.
Q. Is it now common practice to make sustainability just part of what you do when you create a master plan?
A. Right. Now, we were doing that when the first plan was launched, but it wasn’t organized under a Climate Action Plan. We were doing it under the radar screen. This report really incorporates it as its own section, and it’s really embedded in the development of the projects and it’s our responsible way to develop projects.
It’s a whole opportunity with the Century Bond sale that Penn did in the spring; that’s going to significantly help us invest in our existing physical plant. So that $300 million will be used to upgrade to higher energy-efficient lighting and mechanical systems that are nearing the end of their useful life and allow us to install better-performing systems that will be more reliable for not only our research, but our educational community.
Q. How has the recession affected the Penn Connects plan?
A. In some respects, it has slowed things on the development side. Our development partners are struggling to put partnerships together for financing like the Cira South project or the HUB 2 project. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity to sell bonds at a very good rate—4.67 for 100 years is the lowest among our peers and a very competitive rate. It allows us to take on that debt and invest in our existing building portfolio.
Q. Have there been certain things you scaled back due to the economy?
A. A prime example was the Walnut gateway project that was in the plan several years ago. ... We deferred it, but it’s coming back this year. There were others that slowed down a little bit. The new College House might have moved forward earlier, but the delay allowed us to spread out the work over a period of years.
Our capital plan has been in the $200 million plus-or-minus range for over 10 years, so we’ve maintained our portfolio as an organization despite the economy. Penn’s conservative approach in the last 10 years fared well in this downturn and although we had some cuts, they weren’t as drastic or severe as those of some of our peers.
Q. How much local hiring goes on in these projects?
A. In the construction area, which is the area that we’re responsible for, any project over $5 million, whether it’s a Penn project or a development project, has minority and women business goals, both at the contract level and at the workforce level. Our goals range anywhere from 20 to 30 percent … and we have been very successful in both categories. We are in the mid-20 range. Sometimes we are a little higher and sometimes we are a little lower. It’s just a part of our culture, and our contractors know that if they want to do work here they need to become proficient at meeting these goals.
It has been a challenge in this economy because seniority is the system that works in the unionized environment and so the more senior labor force tends not to be more diverse. But we really press upon it and we have maintained our numbers.
Q. How do you see Penn Connects 2.0 impacting the city in the immediate future and beyond?
A. I mentioned the high-performance building and Century Bond work and lowering energy costs. We are working closely with the city on bicycle connections and completing some of the missing links in the bicycle map. ... We’re working with UCD [University City District] on completing some of our missing links.
On the storm water side, we’re working with the Water Department to see if there are opportunities in addition to Penn Park and Shoemaker Green where the greening of our campus will help some of the city’s storm water management issues.
Last year, when we had two storms back-to-back. Penn Park, which had not even opened yet, fared very well. I think that’s because of the cistern and basin work and native plantings that we had incorporated into the design of the project. We didn’t have flash flooding and erosion that other places had.
Q. What’s different about the second version of the Penn Connects plan?
A. [There is a focus on] sustainability and the renewal component of our campus. I think it’s often not understood that the lion’s share of our capital plans, probably two-thirds of our plan every year, is renovation work. I think because Penn Connects 1 focused on a lot of the new building projects, there was a perception that we weren’t investing in our existing campus. We do, in our annual cycle, have a significant amount of renovation work, whether it’s central classroom work or all of the work that’s been done [in] residences.
This year, 1920 Commons is opening after a very beautiful renovation. We did Mayer Hall this summer. There is a significant amount of work that gets done every year—$120-150 million worth of work—and now that will increase with the Century Bond.
To read excerpts from the plan, go to www.pennconnects.upenn.edu and click on “Renew the Vision” on the left side of the page.
Originally published on September 13, 2012