College Hall will be restored over the next two years, starting in early 2023 and ending in January 2025.
The $87.4 million project will principally affect the West Wing of College Hall. The restoration will include new HVAC systems, upgraded windows and roofing, all-gender restrooms, updates to office suites and classrooms, and new elevators. Planning for the restoration began in January 2021.
Since its construction in 1871 as the first building on Penn’s West Philadelphia campus, College Hall has undergone numerous renovations. The West Wing restoration is the continuation of work performed on the east and central wings of the building in the 1990s, according to Jennifer Kinkead, a director in Design & Construction in the Facilities and Real Estate Services.
To provide a staging area for the contractors, a green fence blocking areas of Perelman Quadrangle and College Green has been installed, according to Kinkead. So far, construction has consisted of layout and preparation, with demolition beginning in February.
Kinkead said the fencing will be up in its current configuration for at least 18 months and will start to be removed towards the end of the two-year renovation period.
Students have expressed frustration with the fencing as it blocks out part of the Perelman Quadrangle that is frequently used to enter Houston Hall and Claudia Cohen Hall.
“I think it's really inconvenient that you can't get to Houston,” College first year Elle Baker told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “With the renovations taking up a lot of space, the only way that they can get to Houston is by going all the way around to Irvine Auditorium.”
Mark Kocent, the University's principal planner, added that all occupants of the West Wing have been relocated to the lower level of the East Wing due to safety concerns and the expected noise levels during the renovations.
Other work that will be performed on the West Wing includes the replacement of the green masonry with a cementitious product, which was already done on the east and central wings in the 1990s, according to Kocent.
“There’s a very soft stone called serpentine that’s original to the building from the 1870s, and the primary project, really, is to replace that stone, as we have on the eastern side of the building,” Kocent said.
Kinkead added that the building will look “much more unified” than it does right now after unifying the current differences in stonework between the west and east wings.
The current single-pane windows in the west, central, and east wings, many of which are original to the building, will be replaced with insulated, glazed ones that are more energy efficient. Moreover, the current window air conditioners will be replaced with a central heating and air conditioning system, according to Kocent.
The renovations will also include accessibility improvements. The current elevator, which is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), will be removed from the West Wing staircase and replaced with two new, code-compliant ones, according to Kinkead.
"As a disabled student who relies on the elevators to get to classes in College Hall, I am pleased to see the University working toward accessible standards set by the ADA,” Disabled Coalition President and College second year Lex Gilbert said in a written statement to the DP. “It is imperative that the University move to create more accessible classrooms and lecture halls on campus.”
All-gender, accessible restrooms will also be placed on every floor adjacent to the new elevators, according to Kocent.
"Trans students and staff at Penn have been working for quite some time to get more gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus,” Gilbert wrote. “I hope to see the University create more gender-inclusive spaces across campus, including bathrooms and other public spaces."
Kocent told the DP that the University is working to eliminate student disruptions. Classes will continue to be held in the main lecture hall, College Hall 200, and the Philomathean Society, which occupies the fourth-floor space above College Hall 200, will not be relocated.
“We're going to work very hard to minimize any disruption to that class during construction by doing some of the noisiest work off-hours in the evenings and weekends,” Kinkead said.
Kocent told the DP that he hopes students will appreciate the restored look and increased accessibility of the building.
“The classrooms that students would use on the West Wing will be completely modernized and be very accessible right off the corridor,” Kocent said.