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Walt Whitman High School '97

Bethesda, Md.

With nearly $1.5 billion worth of construction either ongoing or recently completed, one thing is certain: The Penn campus you walk through today will look very different than the one you leave in 2004.

It would be impossible to overstate just how many buildings are springing up throughout campus and just how much of an effect they will have on the life of a typical Penn student in the 21st century.

Over the summer, the $82 million Perelman Quadrangle -- a project nearly a decade in the making -- will finally open, connecting historic College, Logan and Houston halls with Irvine Auditorium, right in the heart of campus. The new Houston Hall, Penn's student union, will open its doors for the first time since 1998.

And that will happen as the finishing touches are put on the $120 million Sansom Common retail complex, which houses the Penn Bookstore, a coffee bar, a hotel, two restaurants and several other vendors.

Meanwhile, Penn will soon enter year three of its ambitious 10-year project to overhaul all of its dormitories and dining halls. The estimated cost of this project is $378 million.

Want to catch an off-beat movie? You'll be able to at the new Sundance Cinemas, which should be finished in the fall on the western end of campus. The theater is partially owned by Robert Redford, and together with a new grocery store and parking lot across the street, will cost around $35 million.

Many of Penn's 12 schools will also soon see new homes. Wharton has its $128 million Huntsman Hall scheduled to open in 2002, while new buildings for the Engineering and Dental schools are now under construction. The Graduate School of Fine Arts is also getting more space once Skinner Hall's renovations are complete, while there are plans to spruce up the Graduate School of Education building. The School of Arts and Sciences is hoping to find money to build a huge new facility for the life sciences.

And the Law School and the Annenberg School for Communication recently saw the completion of major renovations, while the Medical School opened its $148 million Biomedical Research Building 2/3 last year.

And those are just tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Keep an eye out for the $55 million Westside Commons luxury apartment building, which will soon emerge from a vacant warehouse on the eastern end of campus; the $20 million in renovations to Penn's overused main gymnasium; and the preliminary $111 million plan to build a new classroom facility along the northeastern edge of campus.

The construction has caused headaches for current students, who often complain that although Penn might be a great-looking place 10 years from now, they have to wake up every morning to the sounds of jackhammers and cranes and miss out on having such basic college amenities as a student union.

But one thing is pretty certain: When this year's graduating class returns for its five-year reunion in 2005, the alumni may have trouble recognizing their alma mater.

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