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Phila. looks to attract gene center

(12/14/99 10:00am)

Penn is hoping that a $400 billion genetic research center will make its home in University City. Philadelphia and Penn officials are working to bring a major genetics research center to the city that could create thousands of area jobs and generate boundless research opportunities at Penn and other area institutions. The London-based Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical research charity, is searching the United Kingdom and the U.S. for a suitable location for its new $400 million human genome enterprise. City officials say Philadelphia is the perfect place for the center, which would house researchers seeking to map all three billion chemical parts of human DNA. With Penn's aid, the city submitted a proposal last month to Wellcome officials attempting to persuade them to choose Philadelphia to be the center's home. According to Deputy Health Commissioner Donna Gentile O'Donnell, one of the people who helped write the proposal, Philadelphia has several major selling points. The proposal highlighted the city's abundance of research and teaching hospitals as well as the large biotech company and pharmaceutical industry centered around the Philadelphia region. "We want to sell them Philadelphia," said O'Donnell, who is also a Nursing doctoral student. And Penn administrators echoed O'Donnell's statements. "This is a natural for us," Executive Vice President John Fry said. "This is extremely important from an economic development standpoint, and further reinforces the University's role and the Health System's role as a major economic engine in the city." The Wellcome Trust decided to look abroad for a research center site after land disputes brought negotiations for the center's original location outside Cambridge to a halt. While plans to base the center in the UK may still go through, city officials say it's worth a shot to try and bring the center here. Philadelphia is not the only city Wellcome might consider. Several other major U.S. centers of biomedical research like Boston, Seattle, San Diego and San Francisco might also vie for the privilege to house the research center. But even though the proposal did not suggest specific sites within the city for such a research center, many believe that a location close to Penn is a sure bet for the center's success because of the high possibility for research collaborations. And if Philadelphia is chosen to house the research camp, the University plans to work aggressively to attract the center to West Philadelphia, where it would benefit the area both economically and academically. Fry also said the Civic Center site would be a likely place to house the research complex. "One of the advantages is that we do have a site like the Civic Center," he said. According to Louis Berneman, managing director of the University's Center for Technology Transfer, the proximity of a genetic research center would also "offer collaborative opportunities to our faculty to further their own research initiatives." "There would be interest in putting it near Penn because of our prominence in the biomedical field," Berneman said. Yet while the University lent the city a hand in preparing the proposal, officials say they did not point specifically to an area around Penn as a location for the center. "We need to have a better understanding of their vision before we can offer them proposed sights," O'Donnell said.

U. preparing for any Y2K problems

(12/09/99 10:00am)

All systems were tested, and contingency plans are in place for Jan. 1. For many members of the Penn community, this New Year's Eve is a time to break out the champagne and put on their dancing shoes. But for some Penn administrators, it is a time to cross their fingers and hope that life at the University continues without any technical snags. Electronic systems at Penn and across the world will soon come face to face with the Year 2000 bug, commonly referred to as "Y2K," -- a confrontation that some experts say will wreak havoc on any system with an electronic data chip in it. The crux of the Y2K problem is that many older computers have embedded technology that recognizes only two-digit codes for years, as they were programmed back in the 1960s. So while "99" indicates the year 1999, this year's transition to "00" would be read as the year 1900, not 2000. "If it's got a chip in it, it might have a date function," Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing James O'Donnell said. "And if it's got a date function, that could impact the way the system operates." But while many of Penn's major systems -- including payroll, student records, Penn InTouch and student financial systems -- are susceptible to the Y2K bug, officials expect to be able to both avoid most problems and deal with those that develop. For nearly a decade, a University-wide team of computer specialists and administrators have been working diligently -- spending close to $5 million on the University and $18 million on the Health System -- to ensure that when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, the University's computing systems continue operating properly. "We're as confident as it's really possible to be at this point," O'Donnell said. Officials began addressing the Y2K concerns of its major systems as early as 1992, fixing the student records system by 1994, two years before the Class of 2000's matriculation. But much of Penn's Y2K preparation has taken place during the past two years, as older computer systems have either been replaced or upgraded to make them "Y2K compliant." "We are bending over backwards to be careful," said Michael Kearney one of ISC's top Y2K coordinators, adding that "testing has been a major part" of the project. Since December 1998, officials have been testing the University's computers by making copies of its information systems and running them experimentally in a year 2000 setting to make sure they will work when the actual day comes, Kearney said. In addition to protecting various electronic records, another major University concern is making sure heating and lighting systems are not disrupted in the new millenium. According to Juan Suarez, Penn's Y2K facilities coordinator, the systems governing Penn's lighting and heating systems have all been fixed. "We inventoried and validated and tested every piece of equipment that has embedded or electronic components," Suarez said. But even though the University's own systems might be ready for Y2K, they depend on outside public utility companies to supply basic services like heat, electricity, water and telephone lines. O'Donnell said Penn officials have been working with area utility providers -- including PECO Energy -- to ensure that the services they provide Penn will not be impacted come midnight January 1. And just in case, back-up generators, emergency lighting and heating systems and an extra staff of computing officials will all be in place for the New Year's weekend. The testing phase is now complete for most major systems, the bugs worked out, and the University prepared to take the new year head on. According to Kearney, the problems most likely to occur at Penn will be "small, annoying things" like "dates being printed wrong on reports." But while major system failure is highly unlikely, administrators are not taking any chances. In addition to upgrading and testing systems, they have been creating contingency plans in case there are any major problems in the year 2000. O'Donnell likened the contingency planning aspect of the Y2K problems to preparing for "the worst winter storm you've ever had." Housing services has asked all students staying in University residences over New Year's weekend to register with their house deans and take precautionary steps like keeping extra flashlights and blankets on hand for the weekend. In addition, the University's core information systems will all be backed up and shut down at noon on December 31 to minimize any risk of system failure as the clock strikes midnight. "We want to make sure that the systems aren't actually operating at midnight," Kearney said. The systems will then be brought up "in a controlled and managed way" on January 1 and 2. But despite the threat of a Y2K disaster, the University will resume regular operations on January 3.

Senior wins coveted Marshall award for grad study at Oxford

(12/08/99 10:00am)

Andrew March will now go to oxford University for two years of graduate study. His studies have taken him to Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia and Palestine. But soon Andrew March will find academic enrichment in a new country -- England. The College senior is one of a select group of 40 American undergraduates to receive the Marshall scholarship this year -- sending him to Oxford University for two years of graduate study. This is the first time a Penn student has won the prestigious award in 10 years. March, a triple major in political science, intellectual history and Asian and Middle Eastern studies, will focus on either political philosophy or intellectual history while at Oxford. "I'm very, very happy," March said of his award, joking that now he "won't have to worry about the second-semester job search." The 23-year-old Maine native has spent much of his Penn career studying ethnic conflict and has spent time in numerous countries conducting independent research. He is fluent in Serbo-Croatian, Czech and Slovak and proficient in Russian, Albanian, Spanish and Arabic. He will travel to England with his Mongolian-born wife and 17-month-old son. March attributes his success to the University Scholars Program, which aims to promote undergraduate research by providing a system of advising and funds for a wide array of research on and off campus. "It is the most unique thing that I've found here at Penn," March said. "Literally, [the program is] the sole thing that has allowed me to do all [my research]." In addition to garnering three research grants through the University Scholars Program, he has also been awarded the Nassau Undergraduate Research Grant and the College Undergraduate Research Grant. The Marshall scholarship is considered to be just a step below the highly competitive Rhodes scholarship, making it one of the most prestigious awards available to undergraduates. "This is really one of the most difficult scholarships to get," said Clare Cowen, the Marshall scholarship coordinator at Penn. "He's a very, very special individual." The Marshall scholarships, named in honor of former U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall, were established in 1953 by the British government to express gratitude to the United States for the European Recovery Program, which Marshall instituted in 1947. About 800 students nationwide apply for one of the 40 scholarships awarded each year. Students applying for the award must have a strong transcript and GPA and submit a 1000-word personal statement, a 500-word proposal for their studies in the United Kingdom, four references from professors and a letter of recommendation from their dean. The award covers overseas transportation, tuition and fees for two to three years of study at any university in the United Kingdom and a living allowance for the recipient. Recipients must show outstanding achievement in academics, leadership potential, social commitment and communication skills. According to Cowen, March's qualifications speak for themselves. Beyond his extensive research experience, March is a Dean's Scholar, a University Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa and a Golden Key Honor Society Selectee.

Transportation forum is first in a series on campus plans

(12/08/99 10:00am)

Discussing bikes, buses, cars and pedestrians, about 30 people gathered in College Hall on Monday evening to talk about transportation issues on and around campus. The event was the first of a series of open forums on Penn's campus development plan -- which outlines ground rules for future architectural and landscaping projects on campus. The forum was sponsored by the Office of the University Architect and the Olin Partnership, a local landscape and architectural design firm chosen last April to conduct a campus development review. During the meeting, University and Olin Partnership officials gave an overview of transportation issues at Penn -- including public transit, automobile, bicycle and pedestrian traffic -- and suggested possible solutions to these problems. "We need to actually think and debate and talk for a period of time," Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Professor Laurie Olin said. "We will then go back and try and draw some things that hopefully are going to solve some of the issues facing the University." One of the issues raised at the forum was bicycle safety, which has recently gained prominence after two fatal bicycle accidents on campus this semester. "What will you do and what can you do to make things safer on the main roads?" second-year Wharton MBA student Peter Allen asked. In response, Penn officials said they hope to lower traffic speeds in the streets around campus and redesign area streets to create a system of connected bicycle lanes that they hope will increase biker safety at Penn. These plans will supplement a city initiative that will add bike lanes or bike-friendly areas to Walnut, Chestnut and Spruce streets over the next year. "It's crucial that we improve cycle safety," Olin Partnership principal Susan Weiler said. Officials also discussed ways to encourage more students, faculty and staff to take advantage of public transportation and reduce parking on campus and how to coordinate Penn transit with SEPTA services to reduce service redundancy. Second-year City Planning graduate student M.J. Berman said students are using Penn bus services instead of SEPTA. "What kind of policy has the school encouraged to discourage students from using public transportation?" he asked. Vice President for Facilities Services Omar Blaik responded that while the University may have in the past encouraged students to avoid public transportation, it now wants to change the perception of SEPTA as unsafe. Other participants added that some students take Penn shuttle and bus services because they are free, not because they feel other means of transit are dangerous. Officials also said they are looking at ways to make pedestrian traffic, especially at busy intersections, safer for those who travel on foot.

Mayer residents get two-year reprieve

(12/07/99 10:00am)

Officials said that current residents could stay in the dorm until 2002. In response to vocal protests from graduate students living in Mayer Hall, University officials announced that they will allow current residents to stay in their rooms until 2002, while the facility gradually becomes all-undergraduate. But some current tenants of Mayer are not satisfied with the offer and want to remain in Mayer until they complete their degrees. A group of Mayer Hall residents drafted an angry letter to University President Judith Rodin last night demanding that they be permitted to remain in Mayer and asking Rodin to discuss the issue of graduate housing on campus with them. "They haven't really given us an appropriate alternative," said Danielle Kradin, whose husband is a graduate student doing post-master's studies in Psychobiology. "They're just not accommodating us. They're not accommodating the needs of married couples." In a letter delivered to graduate residents of Mayer late last night, housing officials gave tenants the option of staying in their current rooms for two more academic years and offered them moving assistance if they chose to relocate to the Sansom Place facilities -- formally known as the Graduate Towers -- at the end of this year. The letter came in response to Thursday's meeting between officials and concerned residents in which many residents were visibly upset about the decision to move all graduate students out of the residence by next fall. "It was fairest to offer everyone what we judged to be the most supportive possible set of alternatives," Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. Brownlee said the offer to allow students to stay in the dorm for the next two years addresses concerns that residents expressed last week about the immediacy of the transition. The dorm's conversion into an undergraduate residence was originally scheduled to take place over the next few years. "A reasonable complaint was that people wanted to know long in advance," Brownlee said. "This is 2 1/2 [years] in advance and I think that's a sufficiently long time." But many residents are still upset about Mayer's conversion, saying that other on-campus housing options for graduate students are insufficient for married couples and families. "In five years, it does not appear there will be any place on campus for married couples, with or without children," said Shawn Aster, a doctoral student in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. "It's unfair to a lot of students." The letter, signed by over 40 Mayer residents, cites concerns about the financial and academic strains of moving as well as the lack of facilities for couples with children on campus. "It is entirely possible to accomplish the University's goal of integrating more undergraduates into Mayer Hall while maintaining some floors for graduate students," the letter says. It then notes that "such a step would mitigate the inconsiderate and callous manner in which the University has informed students of its intention." Residents also said they will feel out of place living in Mayer next year if it is primarily an undergraduate residence without graduate student programming or facilities. "We have every right to live on this campus," Kradin said. "I'm not going to stay here as a guest." Officials announced plans last semester to make Mayer -- part of Stouffer College House -- all-undergrad over the next few years, a program that began this fall with the conversion of two of the facility's six floors to undergraduate dorms. Transforming Mayer into an undergraduate facility will meet the increasing demand for undergraduate housing on campus as well as bring the facility in line with the two-year old college house system.

Mayer Hall to serve as dorm for undergrads

(12/03/99 10:00am)

Many graduate students who live in the building are upset that they and their families may be forced out soon. In a decision that has drawn vehement opposition from some residents of the facility, University officials announced this week that Mayer Hall will become an all-undergraduate residence next year. The decision has angered and concerned some current tenants of Mayer -- traditionally graduate students, many of them with families -- who did not expect the full turnover to take place so soon. "If we had known that this building was going to be undergrad, we would not have moved in here," said Bessie Gessner, a nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania whose husband is a Wharton doctoral student. "We would have made other arrangements." Housing officials met last night with a small group of concerned Mayer residents to discuss the decision and future housing options for those affected, which include moving into the two Sansom Place towers or finding off-campus accommodations. Many of the residents expressed anger at the lack of prior notification about the decision, which was announced to the residents in a letter delivered Monday. "You're throwing us out of here," first-year Education graduate student Daphne Hernandez said, adding that she feels graduate students at Penn are "not getting the appreciation that we deserve." And Christina Alexiou, a first-year City Planning graduate student, said she, too, felt that the decision reflects a bias in favor of undergraduates at the University. "We're the future leaders of this country and we're going to give this University a good name if we're successful," Alexiou said. "I feel like a piece of trash just being thrown in the garbage." Officials said they are "committed" to meeting with all concerned residents individually to help them find new homes, and will consider the possibility of granting individuals the right to stay until their degrees are completed. "We'll hear their case and we're going to be sensitive to their needs," Director of Housing and Conference Services Doug Berger said. "We're going to be limited to what we can do there, but we will sit down with each student and see what we can do." Despite the backlash, Stouffer College House Dean Anne Mickle said most Mayer residents have taken the news well, adding that a good portion of the current residents are graduating this year and will not be affected by the decision. "So far the response has not been volatile [but] some residents have expressed dissatisfaction with it," Mickle said. Transforming Mayer -- administratively part of Stouffer for the past two years -- into an undergraduate dorm will meet the increasing demand for undergraduate housing on campus as well as bring the facility in line with the two-year old college house system, Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. Officials announced plans last semester to make Mayer all-undergrad over the course of the next few years, a program that began this fall with the conversion of two of the facility's six floors to undergraduate dorms. "With the enormous demand we have for undergraduate space on campus, this seems like a reasonable time to continue and complete the plan of converting it to the college house system fully," Brownlee said. Brownlee said Mayer Hall will likely undergo minor renovations as part of the University's 10-year dorm and dining overhaul, expected to cost more than $300 million.

ISC forum focuses on PennNet

(12/02/99 10:00am)

Penn is ending its free modem pool service and plans to hire an outside Internet Service Provider. About 60 members of the University community gathered in College Hall yesterday afternoon to discuss the future of the Penn modem pool, which will be dismantled over the next two years while reduced-price connections will be offered by from local Internet Service Providers. The forum, hosted by Information Systems and Computing, drew a crowd composed mainly of graduate students, faculty and staff members concerned about how the loss of the modem pool service will impact their jobs and academic careers. Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing James O'Donnell moderated the forum, delivering a 30-minute presentation on the new program and answering questions from the audience. In less than two years, the University will sever ties to its modem pool and develop a cooperative venture with at least one local Internet Service Provider that will charge users a fee. Next summer, the University will begin to phase out the service by charging off-campus students and other modem pool users a fee to dial into PennNet, the University's computing network. On June 30, 2001, Penn will permanently dismantle the system in favor of the ISPs. O'Donnell explained that as computer technology continues to change, the University can no longer afford to compete with the burgeoning ISP business. "We're facing technological obsolescence," O'Donnell said. "Sometime in the near future we need to get out of that business and let others deliver the service for us." Currently, operating the system, composed of 1,080 modems that support over 14,000 users, costs Penn over $1 million annually. Just upgrading the system -- which currently offers a 33.6 kilobit-per-second connection -- to a higher connection speed would cost the University over $1 million. O'Donnell added that officials are exploring the possibility of maintaining and expanding Penn's express modem lines for at least one year after the general pool is dismantled in order to ease the adjustment period for off-campus users. Officials will look to make deals with outside ISPs for both basic 56 kbps modem connections as well as faster technologies, like cable modems and Digital Subscriber Lines, which allow subscribers to use a phone and the Internet simultaneously. Many forum attendees expressed concern about shouldering the costs of an ISP service, even if the service is offered at a reduced price. Sociology doctoral student Julie Kmec, a teaching assistant, pointed out that TAs spend a lot of time online responding to students' e-mails, a responsibility that may be limited by an individual's ability to pay for an Internet connection. "I see a conflict in maintaining the ability to be a good TA and paying for the costs," Kmec said. And Margaret van Naerssen, a part-time faculty member in the Graduate School of Education, suggested that Penn offer to compensate faculty members, graduate students and research assistants who need to dial into PennNet for job-related purposes. "Most of us find it necessary to work from home to keep on top of our work," van Naerssen said. "I feel like this is unfair, and think that there should be some type of reimbursement to pay for this." O'Donnell responded to these concerns by saying that ISC officials are meeting with academic administrators to discuss how best to accommodate the needs of PennNet users. But some of the event's attendees said the benefits of the new program outweigh the drawbacks. "I think it's a good thing to get rid of the Penn modem pool," said Scott Roberts, a computing staff member in the History Department. "I've already ditched it and am getting much better service."

In second year, Trammell Crow still struggling

(12/01/99 10:00am)

The firm has cut the cost of maintaining campus facilities, but workers say savings have come at the expense of quality. Inside the cozy, newly renovated second-floor offices of the Franklin Building Annex, Trammell Crow officials get their early morning cup of brew from the coffeemaker in the corner before continuing on to the offices where they keep watch over the operations of Penn's Facilities Services department. Meanwhile, just a floor below in the heart of Facilities, countless housekeeping and maintenance workers file through the concrete-floored halls, where they punch their timecards, retrieve tools from their lockers and trudge to their first job of the day -- often, they say, without the necessary equipment. For the workers, the stark contrast between these two worlds represents the way Facilities has been run in the 18 months since Penn hired the Trammell Crow Co. to manage its on-campus buildings. And for the facilities that now rely on Trammell Crow for their upkeep, the adjustment period has meant slow responses to maintenance requests and poor housekeeping for the Penn community. With big ideas and a team of high-powered executives, Trammell Crow descended upon Penn in April 1998 aiming to improve many of the University's management procedures and to provide better service at a lower cost to its customers -- the schools and buildings across campus that file maintenance requests. "It's a work in progress," Director of Facilities Services Operations Jim Bean said. Some of those goals are indeed being met. So far, the company has saved "a lot of money" thanks to its "aggressive agenda for change," Vice President for Facilities Services and Contract Management Omar Blaik said. But critics say service has yet to improve and many employees claim that Trammell Crow has refused to spend the money needed to hire more employees and purchase new equipment. "I think that there are significant areas that need to be improved," said Executive Vice President John Fry, who spearheaded the 1998 deal. "What I feel good about is that they're tackling all these areas with a very good spirit." By most accounts, Trammell Crow has initiated the process of transforming a department filled with red tape, and company officials say they are finding ways to make facilities management better and more efficient. Trammell Crow has a tremendous financial incentive to do just that. It will only profit from its contract with Penn if it can cut costs from what was spent on facilities before the takeover. But as the budgets have become tighter, skeptics worry about a decline in quality. Employees say the cuts have led to understaffing and a shortage of quality equipment. A controversial beginning In October 1997, Penn announced its shocking and groundbreaking decision to outsource its facilities management to Trammell Crow, a move that spurred campus-wide controversy as students, faculty and staff alike criticized the University for conducting secret negotiations without any input from those most affected. The University community was outraged at Fry and President Judith Rodin, claiming that the deal reflected an administrative push to make the University a profitable business rather than a bastion of learning. For Penn, the agreement meant savings of 15 to 20 percent in management costs at almost no risk -- the University would pay a fixed amount whether Trammell Crow saved money or not. But employees were worried about losing their jobs or at least key benefits, like deep tuition discounts for family members. The response from students and staff was immediate. University Council -- Rodin's main advisory body, comprised of students, faculty, staff and administrators -- urged the University Board of Trustees to reject the deal after calling its first special meeting in more than 20 years. Numerous campus groups -- including the Graduate and Professional Students Assembly and the Undergraduate Assembly -- demanded more of a voice in the decision. And a number of employees filed a class-action lawsuit against Penn and Trammell Crow, accusing them of conspiring to illegally reduce worker benefits. When the Trustees met in November to make a final decision, about 200 employees, students and residents congregated on College Green to rally against the outsourcing. Still, the Trustees approved the deal -- a move unprecedented in higher education that made Penn the first university or college to hand over its entire facilities operations to an outside company. Guaranteed savings For Penn, the beauty of the deal is that its facilities management costs can only go down. Under the agreement, Penn gives Trammell Crow about $52 million a year to run its section of the $110 million facilities operation -- about the same amount the old management spent to run the same facilities. "It's a fixed cost for Penn," Blaik said, adding that it grows only by inflation or added square feet. "The risk is now Trammell Crow's, not Penn's." But since there is no money built into the deal for Trammell Crow, the company only earns the difference between what Penn pays it and what it spends on operations -- an amount Blaik estimated to be about $1 million per year so far. Tyrone Chilcote, Trammell Crow's liaison to Penn, refused to comment on how much money Trammell Crow has made. Some workers said that Trammell Crow has cut back on costs by not ordering supplies in bulk -- a move that sometimes leaves them waiting weeks before they can complete a job. By contrast, with the University managing the facilities, an electrician who has worked at Penn for 32 years said, "We never had to wait for stuff. We had the job done that day." Chilcote said Trammell Crow's policy is to order supplies based on need. Officials are looking at ways to revamp that policy, Bean said. "We don't want our people having unproductive time," he added. Blaik said Penn officials are also keeping close watch over the company's other areas of management to make sure that Trammell Crow doesn't cut corners to make more money -- indeed, if the company sacrifices quality for profit, the University can make Trammell Crow pay a penalty. The agreement also specifies a limit to the amount that Trammell Crow can earn, though officials refused to say what that limit is. Any extra savings are returned to Penn's coffers. The University and Trammell Crow are still working together to finalize details about the way the company will pay Penn for taking part in its first attempt at higher education outsourcing. The original agreement called for a $32 million lump sum payment. Leaks in the system The firm took over six months after the Trustees approved the deal, and retained about 70 percent of Facilities Services' employees. Since then, officials say there have been two main improvements under Trammell Crow: customer service is centralized to better serve campus facilities and a more efficient capital planning process has been put in place. "We've begun to address longstanding problems in a much more creative and strategic way than we have in the past," Fry said, adding that maintenance and housekeeping are two areas that clearly need more work. The company simplified maintenance services by decentralizing it into five zones across Penn's campus -- each with their own set of supervisors and workers -- to give each building administrator a point person for maintenance requests. Trammell Crow classified all University buildings into either the Residential, Health System, Infrastructure, Eastern campus or Core campus zones. But while the new system is beneficial for the smaller campus zones, it has posed problems for the larger, more spread out areas, like the Eastern zone, which encompasses athletic facilities, the Graduate School of Fine Arts, the Law School and the School of Arts and Sciences, among others. Everyone agrees that the zone system is proving problematic for schools like SAS that have many buildings spread across campus. Blaik said administrators are working on ways to alleviate the problem. But workers say the entire zone set-up makes it difficult for them to do their jobs properly, particularly since for four of the zones, all equipment is now located in the Annex on the 3400 block of Walnut Street, instead of at various locations around campus like it was previously. A 32-year veteran Penn electrician said that no matter where he has a job, he has to go to the Annex to pick up and return supplies. "It takes three times as long to get the same job done," he said. "You constantly keep going back to the same job because it never gets finished. God help you if you forget something." A five-year housekeeping employee agreed. He said a shortage of housekeeping trucks means "we gotta push [the equipment] around campus." "How do we go from a flood in the high rises to a flood in the Quad" without a truck, he asked. Bean said officials are aware of workers' difficulties with moving equipment and are looking to see what they can change. "It's frustrating for them because they can't get their work done because they're not getting around campus," he said. But Nursing School Facilities Manager Helene Lee said the problems have not affected her school because of its location in the Health System zone -- the only zone that has workers and equipment on site, yielding faster response times. Despite some setbacks with facilities, Trammell Crow has been successful with cost-effective changes in the its higher-levels departments. The company has streamlined several important facilities systems, all the while emphasizing that quality does not need to decline with cost. "Some of it is just better bang for the buck," Blaik explained. The company merged its operations control center and customer service into one centrally located system -- an effort made to minimize the response time for facility requests. Trammell Crow also renegotiated many of the University's service contracts and purchasing strategies, using competitive bid processes to its advantage to get better deals. In addition, the company implemented serious savings by re-engineering the way construction projects are approved and carried out, guaranteeing that project costs stay close to their budgets. For example, the 30,000-ton water chilling plant on Murphy Field that would have cost $90 million under the old program structure was phased in such a way that it cost only $65 million, Blaik said. Understaffed? While officials say the problems Facilities has experienced can be attributed to Trammell Crow's adjustment period, some administrators and workers feel that understaffing issues lay at the heart of the kinks in the company's performance. "We've lost people and they brought in twice as many management," one housekeeper said, adding that Trammell Crow has only recently begun filling the vacant positions. "It takes you two years to replace somebody?" the worker asked. Lee, the Nursing School official, said housekeeping, which has been run by UNICCO -- a Boston-based housekeeping management corporation which reports directly to Trammell Crow -- since last May, is suffering from a lack of employees. "I just believe the management being given by UNICCO is very, very poor," Lee said. "The buildings look really, really terrible. I don't think they have enough manpower to manage the housekeepers." Spruce College House Graduate Associate Josh Lavrinc, a first year Law student, said Quad housekeeping is inconsistent and that sometimes the hallways and bathrooms in his building are not well maintained. "I had over a week where they didn't clean my bathroom," Lavrinc said. Although Fry admitted that housekeeping is still experiencing some problems, he pointed out that UNICCO is working hard to repair a very troubled department. "I think we made absolutely the right choice" in hiring the company, he said. Workers said the problem of understaffing is not unique to UNICCO. One long-time employee estimated that the trades division of Facilities was alone about 30 workers short. And according to the electrician, his department is 10 people short -- a vacancy that meant his whole section worked overtime "for three months straight." Bean said Trammell Crow is aware of staffing difficulties in different departments and is currently experimenting with staffing levels.

Students, not retail, focus of CA bldg. use

(11/16/99 10:00am)

Officials are mulling ideas for the recently purchased site in the heart of campus. The recently acquired Christian Association building will likely serve primarily academic or student group needs rather than retail or Greek organizations, University officials have said. The University bought the 27,000-square-foot property -- which officials have long desired for its prime location in the heart of campus -- from the Christian Association earlier this month for an undisclosed price. "There are a lot of academic and student-related groups that would certainly have an interest in space provided by a building like the CA," Provost Robert Barchi said, noting that a final decision will not be made until next semester. "My guess is that retail won't form a major component." Barchi said officials plan to carefully consider potential uses for the building -- which was once the proposed site of an interfaith Unity Center -- and use information gathered by the six University committees that are currently creating a master campus development plan. Because of its central location, officials say they have reason to believe the decision may change the overall atmosphere of Locust Walk and are considering it with extra attention. "This is a very important decision for the University," Barchi said. "I don't think we should take these kinds of pivotal decisions lightly." Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Professor Laurie Olin -- whose architecture firm, Olin Partnership Ltd., was hired by the University to aid in the campus planning process -- stressed the need to consult the University community before making a decision. "I am very interested in what other people think at this point," Olin said, adding that "part of the planning process that we're engaged in is consultative." Olin said that whatever use the University assigns to the property, it should not be "too introverted," but instead should create action in the center of campus. "It really should be part of the breathing in and out of the daily life of a lot of people at the University," Olin said. "It would be too bad if it ended up [being] offices." Olin added that it may be "a good idea to retain some sort of food and beverage" service in the building since its central location makes it "a fabulous place for social meeting." The building currently houses two restaurants, the Palladium and the Gold Standard. Neither of their leases run out for at least two years. The building is also unlikely to serve the Greek community. While a spot on Locust Walk is in high demand for Penn's fraternities and sororities, the space is far too big to accommodate a single fraternity or sorority house, Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Director Scott Reikofski said. "I don't know that we're really interested in it," Reikofski said. "It's much bigger than we could ever really use." But before the building can be occupied, the University must first assess its structural deficiencies and renovate the building as needed. Renovations will follow in two phases. The first, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2000, will address safety issues, while the second phase, set to begin the following semester, will tailor the building to suit the needs of future occupants.

U. to cut modem pool service next summer

(11/10/99 10:00am)

In less than two years, the University will sever ties to its modem pool and develop a cooperative venture with at least one local Internet service provider that would charge users a small fee. Next summer, the University will begin to phase out the service by charging off-campus students and other modem pool users a fee to dial in to PennNet, the University's Internet system. On June 30, 2001, Penn will permanently dismantle the system in favor of the ISPs, Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing Jim O'Donnell said. "What we think we see happening is by July 2001 we will be getting out of the modem pool business entirely," O'Donnell said. Computer technology is changing so rapidly, O'Donnell added, that Penn can no longer compete with the burgeoning ISP business. He noted that Penn's 33.6 kbps modem pool is already slower than most ISPs, which generally offer a 56 kbps connection. Just upgrading the system to a higher connection speed would cost the University more than $1 million. "We provide already a service that is lower in standards than an ISP does," O'Donnell said. "We've seen usage continue to go up steadily every year and we're at a point where we can't go anywhere anymore." Currently, operating the system -- composed of about 1,000 modems that support over 14,000 users -- costs Penn over $1 million annually, a portion of which comes from rent paid by students living on campus who aren't even using the service. The access fee ISC officials plan to begin charging users next summer will serve to draw as many users away from PennNet as possible before it is disconnected, O'Donnell said, making the transition to other means of Internet travel as smooth as possible. The fee will be comparable to a "bargain price, good quality ISP," O'Donnell said. Officials will look to make deals with outside Internet providers for both basic 56 kbps modem connections as well as faster technologies like cable line modems and Digital Subscriber Lines, which allow subscribers to be on the phone and the Internet simultaneously while using one phone line. UC Connect -- a Penn initiative aiming to bring state-of-the-art Internet access to University City -- has already been exploring the possibility of DSL connections for the University community, and ISC administrators plan to work with UC Connect officials to recruit commercial ISPs by the July 1 deadline.

Parts of U. dorm, dining plan to be delayed by several years

(11/03/99 10:00am)

The dates for specific construction components of Penn's $300 million dorm and dining overhaul have been pushed back one to three years, though the overall order of the phases will remain the same, officials said yesterday. Officials have reworked the project's construction timeline and now expect that it will not be complete until 2008, one year later than originally planned, Associate Vice President for Campus Service Larry Moneta said. Moneta added that the timeline has always been temporary and that its recent delays are not a result of financial problems. He stressed that a project of this size and scope can be pushed back by the great deal of consultation and evaluation involved. "This is a very complex project that has to be integrated with the University's other projects," Moneta said, adding that the original timeline, announced a year ago, is a "template from which we'll work" rather than a set schedule of events. "I think that a project that goes on for a decade or more is certainly going to have a variety of external and internal forces that change the details of the schedule," Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. "There is certainly no single force at work in this." The phases of the project that will take place in the Hamilton Village area of campus, where 1,000 new beds will be created, have been pushed back two years from the original projected starting date of late this year. The construction of new residences to create 700 additional beds in Hamilton Village will not commence until sometime in 2001. The construction will take about two years and the residences will likely open in the fall of 2003. Project coordinators also plan to add an additional 300 beds to Hamilton Village, although the specific dates for that project have not yet been determined, since officials want "to make an informed decision about the 300 beds consistent with broader campus planning" that is still being conducted, Moneta said. Also during this period, officials hope to renovate and expand the Class of 1920 Commons dining hall in order to upgrade the facility as well as accommodate the dining demands of additional Hamilton Village residents. Once residential construction is complete, the University will embark upon a three-year high rise renovation project in which one high rise will close each academic year for one year of renovations, beginning in 2003 and ending in 2006. In 2003 officials will begin planning the fate of the Stouffer Triangle, which will likely be demolished to make way for a new dining facility on the corner of 38th and Spruce streets. Stouffer demolition and the construction of the new facility will begin in 2004 -- three years later than originally announced -- and continue through 2006. From 2006 to 2007, the existing low-rise buildings in Hamilton Village, including DuBois and Gregory college houses, will undergo less extensive renovations. And Hill College House and King's Court/English College House will undergo minor changes starting in 2007 and ending in 2008. None of these buildings will close for the renovations. Pointing out that the project began on schedule this summer with the first phase of Quadrangle renovations -- which will see completion in 2003 and take place primarily during summer months -- and the restructuring of the Hill dining facility, Brownlee said that Penn already has a good start on the project. "In part I think we were correctly ambitious and sought to get the University started quickly and strongly on this and we have," Brownlee said. So far the Quad renovations have proceeded according to schedule and are within budget, Moneta added.

Officials get feedback on dorm plans

(10/29/99 9:00am)

Several Penn students and community residents met with housing officials to discuss hamilton Village renovations. A handful of students, community residents and administrators gathered in the Gates Room of the Van Pelt Library last night to discuss plans for the redesign of Hamilton Village as part of Penn's 10-year, $300 million dorm and dining overhaul. During the forum -- sponsored by the Academic and Scholarly Purpose Subcommittee of the Campus Development Plan Committee -- members of the University community were given an overview of the architectural proposals submitted by the six firms that competed this summer for the residential redesign of Hamilton Village, formerly known as Superblock. Housing officials fielded a variety of questions about the project, ranging from whether the renovations will reduce wind and noise in the area to whether Penn is actively consulting the West Philadelphia community on the project. The plans, which were released last Friday, span a large spectrum of perspectives on how Penn could approach the task of adding 1,000 new beds to Hamilton Village and renovating the existing high-rise residences to make them more functional as college houses. Two firms -- the Philadelphia-based Kieran, Timberlake and Harris and Vancouver, British Columbia-based Patkau Architects -- were selected earlier this semester from the group of six to determine if specific parts of their designs can be implemented at Penn. Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee led the forum, walking those in attendance through a slide show presentation of the six architectural submissions. "We're here today to share with you some of the things that we've begun to learn," Brownlee said, referring to the designs as an "encyclopedia of ideas to help shape our thinking about this part of campus." Officials have outlined several primary goals for the project, including upgrading existing residences, building additional college house accommodations, improving the aesthetics of Hamilton Village and creating a more inviting facade for the western edge of Penn's campus at 40th Street. Director of Housing and Conference Services Doug Berger said officials aim to add "some small- and medium-ranged buildings to take away from the starkness of the three high rises" in Hamilton Village. "We also want to bring back the neighborhood to that area," Berger said. "Do the consultative committees have any input from the West Philadelphia community?" College sophomore Lake Polan asked. In response, Brownlee explained that the University's community-outreach officials have been actively consulting area residents on the project. And second-year Annenberg School for Communication graduate student Ann Carey asked if officials plan to incorporate lessons learned in existing college houses into the design of the new low- and mid-rise Hamilton Village residences. "My own personal preference would be to live in a four-story building where there's a small community," said Carey, who is a graduate associate in Hamilton College House. Brownlee replied that Patkau -- the firm which has been asked to design 700 new beds in low- and mid-rise buildings in the northwest quadrant of Superblock, based on its competition design -- has incorporated communities of 24 students centered around a lounge into their design and officials will continue throughout the planning stages to ensure that the new residences will function well as college houses. "All of the new stuff we will build will be as good as the combined amenities of what we have now," Brownlee said. "What's the plan for transportation for another thousand people in that area?" area realtor and longtime University City resident Liz Campion asked. Brownlee replied that both Patkau and Kieran, Timberlake and Harris are working on a plan for delivery and trash removal service vehicles on the block that "does not impede the pedestrian area." Kieran, Timberlake and Harris is currently studying Hamilton House to determine if it can be split into two separate college houses of about 400 residents each, with separate lobbies, elevators and public spaces. If successful, the model may be implemented in all three high rises.

Will Superblock plans atone for 'past sins'?

(10/26/99 9:00am)

Penn and community leaders hope the plans open up 40th Street. Nearly three decades since the first high-rise residence was constructed on the plot of land then known as Superblock, University administrators have returned to the site with a new vision for the area, the dormitories within and its relationship to the community beyond. "I think we're looking for a group of distinctive architectural and humanistic communities, living in an environment of interesting, smaller-scaled public spaces and dynamically related to the surrounding community," Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. This time around the University is taking a different tack in its approach to Superblock, renamed Hamilton Village last year. Above all, officials are striving to make sure the area is no longer a campus eyesore and that West Philadelphia community leaders are consulted on the project, which lies adjacent to 40th Street. To help them realize that vision, officials have outlined four primary goals for the redesign of Hamilton Village as part of Penn's 10-year, $300 million dorm and dining overhaul, which will create 1,000 new beds through the construction of new residences and the renovation of existing buildings. "Fix the old housing, build new housing, make the exterior environment more attractive and put a very active edge around the campus where it meets the neighborhood -- those are all pretty strongly felt objectives [of] the administration," Brownlee said. Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Professor Laurie Olin -- whose architectural firm created a campus development plan that studied the feasibility of adding new beds to the area -- referred to the current configuration of Superblock as "the sins of a previous generation." Brownlee said that the original architects of Superblock also had a vision, but that vision was very different from the way officials see the Hamilton Village of the future. "They believed that skyscrapers were beautiful," Brownlee said. "We want to create an urban environment that is more integrated." Another major goal of the current administration is opening the block up to the neighborhood beyond, Brownlee said. "We don't want a walled community," Brownlee said. "We don't want a situation in which the neighborhood doesn't feel that the University participates with them in some sort of community enterprise." Officials hope that by bringing ground-floor retail into the residences along 40th Street they can create "an amenity that's shared by both the University and the community," Brownlee said. "We're trying also to use the project to help the 40th Street and Walnut Street commercial area," Olin said. Spruce Hill Community Association President Barry Grossbach applauded the University's efforts to create a more inviting transition between the western edge of Penn's campus and the neighborhood beyond. Grossbach said that retail on both sides of 40th Street "sends a message that people are really welcome on both sides of 40th Street." To aid in the new vision Penn invited six architectural firms last spring to compete for the right to help redesign Hamilton Village. Two architectural firms -- the Philadelphia-based Kieran, Timberlake and Harris as well as Vancouver, British Columbia-based Patkau architects -- were selected earlier this semester from the original group of six to determine if specific parts of their designs can be implemented. Through the renovation of existing buildings, particularly the high rises, officials hope to make the residences in Hamilton Village more functional as college houses, with more social and academic space and room configurations that create community, Brownlee said. "These are not buildings that were designed to be college houses," Brownlee said of the three high rises.

Architects envision redesigned Hamilton Village

(10/25/99 9:00am)

For the six architectural firms that submitted proposals to the University for the redesign of Hamilton Village, the project is more than a standard building renovation. It is a chance to shape the living, learning and social environments of thousands of Penn students passing through those residences for decades to come. When the firms visited the University in April, they came across several areas of Hamilton Village needing renovation and focused on similar themes: an open filter to 40th Street, an inviting Walnut Street entrance to Superblock and the need for green space, courtyards and more group social space in the residences. "We really wanted to create community," said John Patkau of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Patkau Architects, one of the two firms asked to implement specific parts of their designs in Hamilton Village. The Patkau design called for two low-rise residences in the northwest quadrant of Hamilton Village, each quadrant composed of clusters of 24 students arranged either horizontally or vertically about a common lounge with a fireplace. "For us, supporting academic communities was a very important goal, so the idea of creating alienated individuals that are in some sort of isolated or isolating situation was the worst thing we could see," Patkau said. In April, the firms were each given a copy of a campus development plan completed by the Olin Partnership, an architectural firm led by Penn Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Professor Laurie Olin. The plan is an analysis of Hamilton Village that determined the feasibility of creating 1,000 additional beds in the area as part of Penn's 10-year, $300 million dorm and dining overhaul. While the plan did present specific design possibilities for creating those beds, the firms were encouraged to depart from the plan as much as they wanted. "We told them really specifically that they shouldn't consider it a design, it was really just a census of what was possible," Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. Some of the firms built upon the foundation put in place by the Olin Partnership, while others went in drastically different directions. "The plan was already kind of loaded," said Thom Mayne, principal of Santa Monica-based Morphosis, one of the competing firms which was not selected. "We absolutely did not agree with it. We decided from the very beginning that we would give them another alternative." For Mayne and Morphosis, preserving the green space on the block -- and not cluttering it with low-rise buildings -- was instrumental to the livelihood of the area. "The low-rise constructions don't really allow you to utilize the open space, which we thought was one of the final assets of the site," Mayne said. By creating large horizontal additions to the high rises several stories above ground, the Morphosis architects worked to maximize green space, while breaking the high rises into specialized units of about 300 students each with social and learning spaces catered to different academic studies. But Philadelphia-based Kieran, Timberlake and Harris -- a firm selected to participate in the redesign of Superblock -- used the recommendations of the campus development plan as a basis for their work on the high rises, firm partner Jim Timberlake said. The firm is studying Hamilton College House this semester to determine if the residence can be split into two separate college houses of about 400 students each, with separate lobbies, elevators and public spaces. If successful, the design may be implemented in all three high rises. Timberlake said the firm looked at the basic living arrangements of the students, how social programs are integrated into the house and how college house staff should be distributed throughout the house. "I think our particular strategy was one of weaving answers innovatively regarding landscape, this new program of housing, social programs and living at all levels, and this new concept of 'hubs,' weaving that in what we describe as a kind of tapestry throughout the whole block," Timberlake said. Lisa Pannozzo, project architect for the San Francisco-based Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris, said that her firm concentrated mainly on developing a "hierarchy" of open space on the block that unified each college house with the overall architecture of the block. "There should be a really special central lawn space," Pannozzo said. The firm solved this problem by creating crescent-shaped wings in several low-rise residences that formed a large circular open space within. The wings would contain social and academic space that created "a more active space that opened up to the quad" beyond, Pannozzo said.

Architects envision redesigned Hamilton Village

(10/25/99 9:00am)

The University put on display the six designs submitted in its architectural competition. Crescent-shaped building wings that create a large circular plaza opening up onto Locust Walk. High rises with enormous horizontal additions jutting out several stories above the ground. A series of 10-story buildings with a single apartment spanning each floor. This is just a sampling of the architectural proposals presented to the University by the six firms that competed this summer for the residential redesign of Hamilton Village, formerly known as Superblock. The plans, which were released Friday, span a large spectrum of perspectives on how Penn could approach the task of adding 1,000 new beds to Hamilton Village and renovating existing residences to make them more functional as college houses. Two firms -- the Philadelphia-based Kieran, Timberlake and Harris and Vancouver, British Columbia-based Patkau Architects -- were selected earlier this semester from the group of six to determine if specific parts of their designs can be implemented as part of Penn's 10-year, $300 million dorm and dining overhaul. Officials asked the competing firms to focus on creating "a better environment on the ground for students and people who live here," as well as to attempt to "build a very active border for the campus" at 40th Street, Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. Patkau has been asked to design 700 new beds in low- and mid-rise buildings in the northwest quadrant of Superblock based on their competition design, which featured two low-rise college houses -- one north of Hamilton College House and one on the field west of the high rise -- surrounding individual courtyards. Low-rise construction is set to begin sometime in 2001 with the goal of a fall 2003 completion. High-rise renovation will begin then and take about three years. With fireplace-equipped lounges, water courses in each courtyard and an "extremely interesting student room configuration," the firm wowed University officials with its multi-building college houses, Brownlee said. In Patkau's design, four-bedroom apartments -- with bookcases built into each bedroom wall and floor-to-ceiling shutters -- are organized into clusters of 24 students grouped around a common lounge area. "The existing craft of this model is a reflection of the style of these architects," Brownlee said. "This is not machine-age design." The design of the college house to the west of Hamilton also includes a visual arts hub and ground-floor retail on the 40th Street side. Kieran, Timberlake and Harris is currently studying Hamilton to determine if it can be split into two separate college houses of about 400 residents each, with separate lobbies, elevators and public spaces. If successful, the model may be implemented in all three high rises. The firm's design includes two- to three-story skirts around the bases of each high rise, where much of the public space will be concentrated. The skirts are also designed to reduce the wind tunnel effect in Hamilton Village. The firm created additional space on top of each high rise and lounges on each floor jut out from the building to allow light into the corridors. "These are the best views in town, so why not show it?" Brownlee said. While only two firms were chosen to design specific parts of Hamilton Village, more firms may be chosen to lay out other components of the project. "It's the gospel truth to say there's something interesting to learn from every [plan]," Brownlee said. Other firms proposed the creation of medium-sized buildings of eight to 10 stories, an idea Brownlee called a very real possibility. "The more we looked at it, the more we thought this really is an environment where some medium-sized buildings make sense," Brownlee said. And many of the firms worked to make the 40th Street edge of Superblock more inviting to the surrounding neighborhood. Several, including Patkau, reached the goal of "really bringing the community into this whole sector," Director of Housing and Conference Services Doug Berger said. The University encouraged the competing firms to be creative in their designs, while it asked them specifically to explore the possibility of ground floor additions to the high rises and courtyard configurations for the low rise buildings as well opening Hamilton Village up to 40th Street. The six designs submitted to the competition are on display in the Class of '28 Lounge in Van Pelt Library until November 8. A public forum will be held on Wednesday where members of the Penn community can discuss the plans and offer their opinions on how to shape the new face of Hamilton Village.

Gimbel Gym to double in size

(10/22/99 9:00am)

Construction is set to begin next summer on the $20 million project. The long-awaited $20 million overhaul of the newly named Pottruck Health and Fitness Center will nearly double the size of the existing Gimbel Gymnasium, according to architectural designs released yesterday. The New York City-based firm Richard Dattner Architect, P.C., was selected to design plans that would expand and renovate Gimbel, providing the first large-scale addition to on-campus recreational space in recent memory. The firm's preliminary report suggests the creation of a three-story structure in the space currently occupied by the Katz Fitness Center and increasing the square footage for free weights, cardiovascular equipment and recreational programming from 80,000 to 150,000 square feet, Vice President for Facilities Omar Blaik said. Officials hope to begin construction next summer on the project -- funded primarily by a $10 million donation from 1970 College graduate and University Trustee David Pottruck -- and are aiming for completion during spring 2002. During construction, officials plan to keep all existing components of Gimbel open, although the basketball courts and pool will close temporarily during renovations. The Katz Fitness Center will move temporarily to the second floor of the building during construction. The first phase of the project will likely include the demolition of the one-story structure currently occupied by the Katz Center and the construction of a three-story annex connected to the existing structure by an atrium, Blaik said. In the second phase, the pool, basketball courts and shower and bathroom facilities will be renovated, eventually bringing new lighting and refinished walls and ceilings to the completed project. "There will be definite improvements in the existing space," Blaik said. The main entrance on Walnut Street will remain open during construction, he added. Although the completed facility will bear Pottruck's name, the Katz Fitness Center, the Gimbel Gymnasium and Sheerr Pool will remain within the larger structure and retain their names. Project architect Federico Del Priore said the atrium, which will connect the old and new buildings, will open up both buildings to the street while creating a visually pleasing experience. "You will be able to see through the main space in the north-south direction," Del Priore said. The vendors that occupy the fresh air food plaza next to Gimbel will be temporarily relocated during construction, although officials have not yet found a spot for them, Blaik said. "We are currently looking into several options but it is very feasible for them to come back after the construction is done," Blaik said. The firm was selected earlier this month from an initial pool of five architects for its "terrific experience in health and fitness centers in many urban cities and on campuses," Blaik said. Del Priore said his company welcomed the Pottruck project as a chance "to expand our firm's range of project types and work on sports facilities" as well as "the opportunity to work for a prestigious institution like Penn." The firm's project history already includes a long list of sports and fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreational facilities, swimming pools and urban parks. University officials first attempted to address the need for better exercise facilities in 1996 when they hired the consulting firm of Brailsford & Dunlavey to create a list of recommendations for the future development of athletic and recreational facilities on campus. As a result of the recommendations -- which called for 225,000 additional square feet of indoor recreational space -- Gimbel underwent $1.2 million in renovations in 1998 for the construction of the ground-floor Katz Fitness Center.

U.: Accidents prompt concern

(10/20/99 9:00am)

University officials said yesterday that it is too soon to decide whether Penn will seek to quicken city plans for bike lanes on and around campus, following two fatal bicycle accidents in the past 10 days. Yesterday, Wharton freshman Sung Woo Yang, who went by the name Michael, died after being hit by a truck while traveling north on 33rd Street. And on October 11, 70-year-old Benjamin Tencer, who was taking classes at Penn as part of a special program for senior citizens, died two days after being hit by a car near the busy intersection of 34th and Walnut streets. "We really haven't had a chance to talk as an administration," University spokesperson Ken Wildes said. While the accidents have peaked interest in campus bike safety, plans were already in place to make University City a safer area for cyclists. A joint city and state transportation project -- in which the University is not involved -- calls for the installation of bike lanes on Spruce Street and the resurfacing of Chestnut and Walnut streets to create wider places along the sides of the streets for parked cars and bikers. But those projects aren't scheduled to begin until next spring or summer. Wildes said he could not speculate right now on whether Penn would get involved in the bike lane initiative, but stressed that the University is very aware of bike safety issues, especially after the two recent incidents. "Are we concerned about it? Of course," Wildes said. "We're concerned not only about the safety of bicyclists but pedestrians as well and motorists. We all have to try and live together in this urban environment." And University Police Chief Maureen Rush said that biking in the city is always an activity that should be pursued with caution. "It's very difficult to share the streets, even with bike lanes, and certainly bike lanes are an issue in our area," Rush said. "Through this tragedy, maybe people will keep in perspective that they always have to be careful when they're riding their bikes." But Rush said a bike lane probably would not have saved either Tencer or Yang because of the nature of their accidents. The move to make streets safer for bicyclists stems from a city initiative called the Philadelphia Bicycle Network. Started by the city's Department of Streets in 1994, the network aspires to create over 300 miles of interconnected bike lanes throughout the city. So far, Philadelphia has over 60 miles of bike lanes. Streets soon to be resurfaced and supplemented with bike lanes also include 43rd and 44th streets.

U. plans summer renovations to Sansom Place apartments

(10/06/99 9:00am)

Aiming to improve the comfort level of graduate facilities, officials are planning a series of renovations to Sansom Place East and Sansom Place West -- formerly known as Graduate Towers A and B -- that may begin as early as next summer. The project may include upgrading kitchens, furnishings and other elements of the apartments -- as well as renovating heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, Associate Vice President for Campus Services Larry Moneta said. "I'm hoping we can begin to deal with both the environmental issues? and the cosmetics," Moneta said. "The earliest dollars spent will focus on resident comfort." Officials stressed that the project is still in the preliminary planning stages and they do not yet know how much the project will cost or how long it will take. Though it is being treated separately, Moneta said it is an extension of the University's $300 million dorm and dining overhaul. "I hope to be doing something in there by next summer," Moneta said. The apartment-style graduate residences, located on the 3600 block of Chestnut Street, have long been criticized by graduate students for being a housing option more expensive than they are worth. Moneta said the project was spurred partly from administrators who recognized that the residences "were old and tired" and partly due to a push from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly to improve graduate student housing on campus. GAPSA conducted a survey of 301 graduate students last semester in which many said that the cost of on-campus graduate housing was excessive for the space and quality of living provided. "The GAPSA survey reinforced what we knew," Moneta said. GAPSA chairperson Kendra Nicholson said that she was pleased that officials had responded positively to GAPSA's requests. "I think it's great that the administration is taking our survey seriously," the second-year Social Work graduate student said. "I'm very excited about it." Architecture firm Ewing Cole Cherry Brott -- the same firm handling renovations to the Quadrangle -- conducted a study of the buildings over the summer to determine "what it's going to take to bring the buildings into the 21st century," Moneta said. Administrators are now working with the firm to develop plans for the renovations, which will likely be designed in a way to allow the buildings to remain open during construction. Planning for the Sansom Place renovations will include consultation with GAPSA and other members of the graduate student community. A consulting committee should be in place by the spring, Moneta said. "We will do exactly with Sansom Place what we have done with undergraduate residences," he added. Moneta also stressed that the project was not motivated by occupancy problems or "dangerous conditions" in the buildings, saying that "the normal aging process" requires a face-lift every so often.

Annenberg marks 40th anniversary

(09/30/99 9:00am)

The school reopened its newly renovated home as part of the star-studded gala celebration. They came from as close as Walnut Street and as far away as Moscow and Hong Kong. But the several hundred Annenberg alumni, graduate students, undergraduate Communications majors, faculty, staff and officials who attended yesterday's Annenberg School for Communication 40th anniversary celebration were greeted with a day-long series of events which drew prominent figures in politics and communications to the school that apparently would make the trip back to West Philadelphia worth the jet lag. The celebration -- which featured speeches by New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam -- also marked the completion of a two-year, $15 million renovation project to the school's Walnut Street home and the 48th wedding anniversary of University Trustees Walter and Leonore Annenberg, the school's main benefactors. Officials held a building dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. to celebrate the completion of renovations, during which older sections of the building were renovated and the Annenberg School Theater was closed to make way for the new home of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Speaking during the ceremony, University President Judith Rodin cited the ignorance of many Americans on public policy and political issues as a necessary reason for the Public Policy Center's place within the school. "It is essential that there be a place where? people can examine public issues from a historic perspective, from a political and sociological point of view," Rodin said. "It is no surprise that every time there is a big story in the media with political implications, it is the faculty of the Annenberg School who are called for comment." The ceremony -- which was held in the courtyard at the building's renovated front entrance on Walnut Street -- was broadcast via simulcast to an audience inside the Zellerbach Theatre as a means of displaying the school's new teleconferencing link that will connect the school with the Annenberg Public Policy Center's other branch in Washington, D.C. "By incorporating the Annenberg Public Policy Center into the core of the Annenberg School we ensure that in perpetuity the educational mission of the school will stay at the core of the Public Policy Center and that it will not become some kind of separate entity," Annenberg Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson said. And Provost Robert Barchi spoke of the Annenbergs' vision for the school when they founded it in 1959, saying that the school has and will continue to meet that vision. "In accordance with Ambassador Annenberg's vision, the Annenberg School educates students and conducts research in the uses of communication both to improve society and to realize the highest ideals of citizenship," Barchi said. Officials also heralded the opening of the Institute for Public Service, a new part of the Public Policy Center, and the Presidential Campaign Archive, which compiles for study rhetoric from every presidential campaign since 1952. During the morning's festivities, Whitman outlined the need for effective communication in today's political environment. She stressed the importance of "developing a good public policy and coupling it with a good communications strategy" to pass effective legislation. And Brokaw, who spoke at midday as part of a closed luncheon program, shared with the audience both the advancements and the shortcomings of broadcast journalism he has witnessed in his over 30 years in the business. Brokaw said that as he saw the broadcast world take a greater interest in health and science issues and the arts, he also watched news programs "mis- or under-represent what was going on in the rest of the world." "It was then in short a great national asset but also an imperfect profession," Brokaw said. Brokaw also spoke on the rise of the integration of communications and public policy in institutions like Annenberg, calling the school "a national treasure." And Rendell, making his first visit to campus since being named head of the Democratic National Committee, took the stage after Brokaw to express his admiration for the Annenbergs and the school. He also gave his opinion -- from a politician's perspective -- that "the press has a long way to go" towards becoming a respectable profession. Halberstam took the stage to deliver the evening keynote address in Zellerbach. Like Brokaw, Halberstam looked back over his years as a journalist, but with less optimism and more criticism than the television news anchor. "There is a deeper malaise in journalism today than there ever were when I entered the profession over 40 years ago," Halberstam said. In particular, the critically acclaimed author criticized the loss of values in television journalism as well as the shift toward sensationalism and reporting only those stories that are "sexy." But Halberstam did offer a ray of hope in his cynical but humorous talk, saying that today's schools are "turning out more bright young people than ever before." Attendees passed the afternoon by taking tours of the renovated building and participating in panel sessions moderated by Annenberg faculty. One panel session, entitled "Presidential Election Campaigns: Past and Future," was moderated by David Eisenhower, an Annenberg faculty member and grandson of the former president. It included as panelists Stephen Hess, the head of the Brookings Institute and one-time speechwriter for President Dwight Eisenhower, and Michael Waldman, the recently departed head speechwriter for President Clinton. Jamieson said last night that she was very pleased with the successes of the day's events. "The panels have gone well. The speakers have been wonderful," Jamieson said, adding that she was pleased with the amount of interaction between guests, faculty members and speakers.

Officials working on audio in Irvine

(09/28/99 9:00am)

Friday's 'Penn P.I.' event was plagued by frequent microphone problems. After experiencing difficulties with two wireless microphones during Friday's Penn Politically Incorrect program in the newly renovated Irvine Auditorium, facilities officials are investigating the source of the problem and hope to have it repaired within the next week. During the event -- one of the first major events to be held in Irvine since it opened earlier this month after major renovations and upgrades to its sound and audio-visual equipment -- microphones worn by Senior Class President Lisa Marshall and host Bill Maher periodically faded in and out, making it difficult for audience members to hear the panelists. The sound problems will not affect the highly anticipated visit of former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to speak in Irvine on October 6, since Netanyahu will be using a standing microphone instead of a wireless one, Hauber said. Officials have pinpointed the wireless microphone problem to the frequency on which they operate, which conflicted with the large number of people in the audience, according to Tom Hauber, who will manage the Perelman Quadrangle upon completion. Irvine is one of the five main buildings that constitute the new Perelman Quad student center. Hauber said that engineers should arrive within the next few days and that the problem should be resolved quickly. "When people enter the auditorium, there is a difference in biorhythm, but it usually? never affects the sound check," Hauber said. "As the frequency decreased, then the volume went down." According to Hauber, the difficulties panelists experienced with the wireless microphones were unexpected and not due to a lack of preparation on the part of the sound crew. "[The microphones] were all tested before anyone was admitted to the auditorium," Hauber said. "They all checked perfectly"-- that is, until the audience entered. Still, he maintained that "we've called in the engineers who actually installed [the microphone system]. Whatever we find the correction that needs to be taken, it will be taken at every event." Hauber added that the microphones are still under warranty in the event that they must be replaced. Students who attended Penn P.I. said that while they found the audio problems distracting, the event was not ruined as a result. Wharton sophomore Scott Kend said he felt audio difficulties took away from the ability of the panelists to maintain a fast-paced, funny dialogue -- especially after Marshall and Maher had to resort to sharing a hand-held microphone -- but that the program was still successful. "It's sort of like the new Billybob's," he said. "I mean, on one hand you sort of think there's something missing [and] it's not like old times. But on the other? it's better than nothing." And Wharton junior Kate Portland said that while the fading of the audio was distracting, she didn't feel it ruined the show. "I don't think it was a big deal at all," she said.