Trustees approve Abington and Brandywine housing projects

Projects will meet demands for residential housing, expected enrollment growth

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The University Board of Trustees voted Tuesday (Dec. 15) to approve residential projects at Penn State Brandywine and Abington to address the demand for housing and help the campuses continue to attract students from the Philadelphia area and out of state.

Additionally, the board committed to looking at public-private partnerships for two upcoming building projects and look at additional cost-control measures for housing and food services.

The Brandywine project includes a 256-bed residence hall along with a student union; the Abington project will be located near campus on University-owned property and feature a 402-bed apartment-style complex.

The 22-13 vote took place during a special meeting held via conference call. The action follows extensive study, review and planning related to the demand for and feasibility of residential living for students on both campuses, neither of which currently offers University housing. The projects have been in development for about seven years. The University considered several options, including a public-private partnership, but ultimately opted to maintain University ownership, ensuring high construction-quality standards and maintenance standards are met.

The full Board and the Trustees’ Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning reviewed both plans during the November meeting.

While the University did not opt for a public-private partnership for this project, it remains committed to exploring those options in the future. The University will solicit public-private partnership proposals for its next residence hall project, which will be at Penn State Altoona, as well as a mixed-use building at University Park.

“To assess whether we can improve upon what I believe is an already rigorous and commendable process, the University commits to solicit public-private partnership proposals as part of the competitive procurement process for the next residence hall project, which will be at Penn State Altoona, and a project at University Park to construct a mixed-use building located on the University owned Smith Property along Atherton street,” said Chairman Keith Masser. “These two near-term capital projects would be ‘test cases’ to add to the University’s experience with public-private partnerships and to further assess their utility for future capital projects.”

Masser said that, in a similar vein, the Finance, Business and Capital Planning Committee will consider a separate cost-control initiative at its meeting next month. To ensure that the board is fully informed about minimizing room and board charges, and with the objective of further moderation of room and board increases, the committee will address the subject at its February meeting and report to the board to facilitate a discussion by the full board.

The board voted 21-14 against an amendment that would have directed the administration to bring a plan to the February meeting a plan for a three-year moratorium on all room and board costs through 2018. That would have included considering public-private partnership proposals for all student housing projects and non-academic facilities starting Jan. 1, 2016.

“We believe that there would be a tremendous amount of process overhead in going down both tracks simultaneously,” said David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business. “That overhead would lead to time delays, which in the construction business means additional costs as well as the implications for staff trying to support both models in parallel fashion.”

Abington and Brandywine are two of the few higher education campuses in the state that do not offer on-campus housing. Two studies by external consultants have found a demand for on-campus residential experiences. The addition of University housing is expected to help not only with recruitment, but with retention, benefitting students academically as well as socially.

In particular, they will be critical for recruitment and retention of many students who want a residential living experience as part of their undergraduate education. That includes attracting students from the greater Philadelphia area, as well as out-of-state and international students.

The on-campus Penn State Brandywine residence hall will feature two-person rooms with shared private bathrooms. It will cost an estimated $31.5 million, and will be designed by the joint venture of Barton Malow of Baltimore, Maryland, and EDIS of Malvern, Pennsylvania.

The Brandywine project will include a new 31,000-square-foot student union that will provide support for students who live on and off campus, including dining services, meeting rooms, the bookstore, recreational space, a wellness center, lounge areas and student affairs offices. It will cost an estimated $19.6 million.

At Penn State Abington, the apartment-style complex will be built on a University-owned parcel about a half-mile from the campus. Each apartment will house between four and six students and include a kitchen. Off-campus dining options are located nearby, and a campus shuttle will transport students to and from campus. The project will cost an estimated $50.6 million.

The projects will be paid for with reserves and self-supported borrowing, with payback expected to take 18 years.

Based on Pennsylvania Department of Education enrollment projections, the combined service areas of Abington and Brandywine are expected to enroll 28,000 high school seniors by 2021, the most of any region in the state. In addition to being able to draw students from the population centers surrounding Philadelphia, both campuses attract a growing number of first-choice, out-of-state and international baccalaureate applications, a 35 percent increase in applications since 2009.