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Construction on Levine Hall, a new technology and computer science building, officially began last Thursday when University officials and trustees gathered for an afternoon groundbreaking ceremony.

University President Judith Rodin and School of Engineering Dean Eduardo Glandt joined 1946 Wharton graduate Melvin Levine and his wife Claire in lifting a spadeful of soil from a small plot set on stage to symbolize the groundbreaking.

The Levines -- the building's namesakes -- donated $5 million to help cover the estimated $15 million required for construction of the new Engineering building.

Rodin, Glandt and University Provost Robert Barchi were among those who spoke at a trustees luncheon prior to the groundbreaking, each attesting to the importance of the new facility for computer science.

"It's an area that will not only permeate Engineering but will permeate the entire University," Barchi said.

Glandt also noted that the rapidly growing computer science department needed room to expand.

"This is a very active department that needs space for teaching," he told the over 100 trustees, University officials and guests assembled on the west lawn of the Towne Building for the ceremony.

"Every discipline on campus is being changed by information technology day-by-day," he added.

The 40,000 square foot building -- designed by the architectural firm Kieran Timberlake -- will connect the now separate Moore and Towne Buildings.

Mitchell Marcus, chair of the Department of Computer and Information Science, called the facility "crucial new space for the expanding research programs of our existent faculty and those to come."

University Trustees Chairman James Riepe said that the new building represented the Trustees' commitment to developing technology on campus.

"The biggest thing that we did this weekend, I think, was to celebrate the groundbreaking of Levine Hall, and that was targeted right at computer sciences and is going to give the engineering school a wonderful platform to advance the technology ball," Riepe said.

Levine Hall, which will double the space available for computer and information science at Penn, will feature expanded and updated computer science facilities, space for student activities and a new auditorium outfitted with state of the art distance-learning and electronic equipment.

While the Levines provided a significant portion of the funding, the United States Air Force granted the University approximately $10 million for Levine Hall. An anonymous donor contributed $225,000 for a cybercaf‚ -- complete with Internet-ready computer terminals -- in the building.

The University also unveiled a site marker commemorating the building of ENIAC -- the world's first electronic digital computer -- in the basement of the Moore Building.

"That began the era of modern computing and literally the dawn of the information age," Rodin said.

"Certainly there is kind of a romantic notion about the birth of the information age in a basement," she added.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will place the marker, which is similar to 1,800 other historical markers throughout the city, at the corner of 33rd and Walnut streets.

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