The Graduate School of Education reached a milestone in its $35.6 million expansion, with construction expected to be completed in the fall of 2023.
The expansion, which aims to centralize all GSE facilities, is on track for completion by next semester. Recently, the final piece of steel was secured in place to connect the 3700 Walnut Building and Stiteler Hall, marking a merge between the two buildings. This addition brings the school one step closer to Dean Pam Grossman's One Penn GSE vision, an initiative intended to unite GSE's separate facilities into one space.
Grossman told The Daily Pennsylvanian that she hopes that the major project — GSE's first major renovation since 1966 — will provide a cohesive campus for the school.
“My hope is that this will provide a wonderful campus to bring our students together across programs,” Grossman said. “People expressed to me that they felt like the school was very siloed and they didn't have opportunities to get to know one another. That's where the idea of One Penn GSE first came to be — we needed to be together.”
Grossman, whose term as dean is ending this June, began her tenure in 2015, when the school was located in six different buildings all across West Philadelphia. In the last two decades, the GSE student body has doubled its size to over 1,600 students, making GSE the fifth largest graduate school at Penn. Grossman said that because available classrooms were not big enough, many students have had to take classes off campus.
GSE students also said that there is currently limited space for collaboration and socializing inside the current building but expressed optimism about having all programs in one place.
“For GSE students who are often only here for one or two years, it is crucial that there's an accessible forum for students to build community quickly," Robert Watson, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president and third-year GSE masters and law student, said.
Philip Chen, the president of Annum Architects and the lead architect of the project, explained that the construction will feature a mixture of classrooms, collaboration spaces, student-focused spaces, and accessibility renovations, including a new elevator in Stiteler Hall. New central pool classrooms will also be built, which will be usable by all Penn graduate students.
Stiteler Hall will also house Catalyst@Penn, a new innovative learning hub that is equipped with audiovisual and virtual reality technology. On the second floor, the McGraw Center for Educational Leadership is being built, which will provide space for GSE leadership programs and for educational leaders across sectors to work together. The Center was sponsored by a $16 million grant from the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation.
The GSE expansion is a combination of 16,200 square feet of brand new building construction and 16,900 gross square feet of renovation, totaling 33,100 square feet, Chris Kern, the executive director of design & construction at Penn's Facilities & Real Estate Services, told the DP. The plan also includes a four-story building expansion on the east side of the 3700 Walnut building.
GSE will also receive a new entrance and lobby facing 37th Street walk. Chen said that the current entrance — built in the 1960s and facing inward to the Social Science Quadrangle courtyard — has turned GSE away from the city and Penn community.
“By creating an entrance that faces the main street, we are connecting it back to the Penn campus,” Chen said
University Architect Mark Kocent said that the construction is on track for completion by fall 2023. Currently, the outside of the building, including a curtain wall and terracotta facade, is being installed alongside some interior work. Over the summer, plumbing, mechanical systems, and furniture furnishings will take place.
Watson added that there has not been disruption in his learning process due to the construction, as many classrooms and common spaces are still available to students.
“Education is at the core of Penn's mission," Grossman said. "To have this new campus with a brand new entrance is going to be a statement about the centrality of the Graduate School of Education to the University of Pennsylvania.”