Upcoming renovations to Stouffer College House and the Quad will include the construction of new accessibility features in each of the dormitories.
Two elevators and a Limited-Use-Limited-Application lift — a hybrid between a commercial elevator and wheelchair lift — will be installed in the Quad, and Stouffer will become newly accessible with reconstructed entrances, elevators, and ramps in and out of the dorm, according to Director of Residential Services Pat Killillee. Other internal accessibility-related renovations to the Quad include making bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Quad’s $29.8 million renovation will take place over six summers through 2027, and Stouffer will be closed from this May until fall 2023 to complete its $200 million renovation. Penn previously announced renovations to the buildings in February 2021, but details regarding the accessibility upgrades were not included in that announcement.
The two elevators in the Quad will be located in Thomas Penn and Memorial Tower and the LULA elevator will be in Provost Tower. The elevator in Thomas Penn will provide access to floors one through four in Thomas Penn and Graduate, and the LULA elevator will provide access to the Provost Tower Quiet Study via Graduate, according to an April 8 email from Director of Communication and External Relations for the Division of Business Services Barbara Lea-Kruger.
Lea-Kruger did not indicate which areas of the Quad the elevator in Memorial Tower would access.
Changes in the Quad generally will not be made to student rooms or hallways, but the renovations will make sure public spaces are accessible and that the new elevators create more connectivity throughout the building, Killillee said.
Stouffer is not currently ADA-accessible. The entrance to the building is on a patio, which can be accessed only via a staircase, and there are no elevators inside the building. An elevator will be installed that will provide access from the ground level to the Stouffer Patio. This elevator will be located near the entrance to Stouffer Commons, Killillee said.
In addition to installing an elevator, the existing staircases in Stouffer will be converted to ramps, and a lift will be installed from the first floor lobby to the dorm’s second floor. Stouffer student rooms will receive accessible doors and bathrooms will be remodeled to be ADA-compliant. Spiral staircases in the lounges will also be removed, Killillee said.
“The Stouffer project will actually be much more significant [than the Quad renovations] and make the building actually accessible because it isn’t now,” Killillee said.
He added that the Quad’s historic architecture makes it harder to renovate and update than Stouffer.
“The Quad is challenging [to renovate] because it’s multiple buildings built over 70 years, and there’s elevation changes and structural changes in terms of construction," Killillee said. "So you’ve got late 1800s to mid 1900s technology and construction that you have to contend with."
College sophomore Ellie McKeown, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and sometimes walks with a cane, said that she was glad to hear of the renovations.
“I deeply appreciate meeting the ADA, and I wish that every building could meet and go above and beyond what is required of campus buildings,” McKeown said.
College junior Kruti Desai, who has a physical disability and is the co-founder of Disability Advocacy @ Penn, echoed these sentiments. She pointed out how the renovations would allow first-year students with disabilities to live in the Quad.
“It’s definitely important because I know a lot of [first years] that want to live in the Quad because it’s so much part of the [first-year] experience, but then can’t live in the Quad because it’s definitely not an accessible dorm,” Desai said.
However, Desai expressed concern that accessible rooms would be limited to certain portions of the Quad, as only two elevators and one LULA lift are being installed, but the Quad is a large dorm.
McKeown expressed concern about the Stouffer renovation affecting the Stouffer Commons basement, which is currently the only accessible entrance to Platt Performing Arts House. McKeown is a member of Bloomers, which rehearses in Platt.
Killillee said that Stouffer Commons would be largely unaffected by Stouffer’s renovation, and accommodations will be provided for accessible entrance to Platt.
Both Desai and McKeown emphasized that while the renovations are a great start, there is still more work to be done.
Students have also faced accessibility challenges with other buildings around campus, calling for renovations and further support for disabled students.
Desai pointed out that accessible entrances are often in secondary locations at the side or back of buildings, and they don’t lead into the main lobby of the building.
“When you’re putting in ramps and railings and elevators … I think it’s important to keep them somewhere that is easily visible and locatable,” Desai said. “I wish [accessible entrances] were a little easier to locate.”
Desai added that she understands that renovating buildings that already have accessible entrances is a large project, but some buildings could benefit from an additional accessible entrance near the main entrance. She also expressed the need for increased awareness around accessible entrances, and for PennAccess — a site providing accessibility maps of the University — to be updated and published more as a resource.
“You don’t need to actually renovate any of the buildings because they already have the ramps and elevators that they’re supposed to have. But they’re just all in very inconvenient locations. That’s the main issue,” Desai said.