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Penn Park was constructed as part of PennConnects' development plan.

Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

Returning students have already noticed that the hole in the ground across from Commons is finally filled and covered by the skeleton of the soon-to-be Perry World House.

While most students enjoyed the summer off-campus, Penn made significant progress in campus construction and celebrated the 10th year of PennConnects, a comprehensive construction plan designed to better “connect” Penn internally and to the rest of Philadelphia.

Started in 2006, PennConnects is “a master plan, if you might, of how to implement the physical projects that had to happen in order to allow the academic and research goals created by the Penn Compact ... and was allowed by the funding gained from Penn’s Making History campaign,” Anne Papageorge, Facilities and Real Estate Services vice president, said.

The Penn Compact 2020 is a wide-reaching goal for advancement of the University through inclusion, innovation and impact. It is funded by Penn’s Making History Campaign earnings.

Construction goals and visions were gathered from the 12 schools and centers, and managed under the unified vision of PennConnects.

“It was all carefully calculated, as the plan identified the individual projects that each school and center wanted to realize,” University Architect David Hollenberg said.

PennConnects is expected to last upwards of 30 years, with the plan being undertaken in five-year phases.

After the first phase of PennConnects from 2006 to 2011, PennConnects 2.0 began and included projects budgeted at over $5 million, like the New College House, the renovation of the Arch and the Singh Center for Nanotechnology.

The total cost of all completed projects from PennConnects Phase 1 (2006 – 11) was approximately $1.703 billion, and the total cost of all completed and under-construction projects for PennConnects 2.0 (2011 – 15) was $2.127 billion.

PennConnects is a guide for construction around campus, but Papageorge clarified that the ‘Connects’ in the name comes from the desire to bridge the gap between Center City and University City.

For example, the completion of Penn Park in 2011 significantly enhanced the University’s entryway from the South Street Bridge.

“Not 10 years ago, where Penn Park is today, used to be a massive ugly parking lot, a bone-yard for old campus vehicles,” Hollenberg said. “Our plans aren’t just about expansion, but about improving the campus as a whole, and establishing connections both better internally and with the community.”

The FMC Tower, one of the PennConnects projects due for completion in 2016 at the corner of 30th and Walnut streets, will welcome drivers and pedestrians via the Walnut Street Bridge into University City.

The spring and summer of 2016 will also mark the expected completion of several large projects including the Perry World House, the New College House, the Neural-Behavioral Sciences Building and the Pennovation Center and site.

“It was also about allowing the campus to be better connected through upgrading discreet pieces of landscape,” Papageorge said. “There wasn’t always this beautiful, pleasant walk down Locust Walk to Smith Walk, through Shoemaker Green, to Penn Park, because some the pieces were missing.”

Throughout the summer, FRES managed 40 summer projects that came to an expected expenditure of $60 million.

“Of course our big construction projects like the New College House are year-round operations, but the summertime is when our staff and contractors can really get in there with all kinds of renovations,” Michael Dausch, executive director of design and construction management, said.

“It’s been a remarkable period on campus with just how explosive this growth has been,” Hollenberg said. “We’re preparing for all of the new openings, and I don’t think we’re going to have another year like [2016] in a long time. We’re really looking forward to it.”

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