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Penn State Lehigh Valley Breaks Ground on $14 Million Expansion

By Kat Schneider on March 9, 2020

Penn State Lehigh Valley broke ground on March 4 on a $14.4 million expansion that will feature a high-tech STEM wing. (photo by Rachael Wolfe Photography)

As one of Lehigh Valley’s largest employment sectors, health care represents 59,300 of the region’s jobs. That number continues to climb upwards, and as it does, so too does the need for skilled workers and facilities where students can train on up-to-the-minute equipment.

For its part, Penn State Lehigh Valley is answering the call for health care workers with $14.4 million expansion that will feature a high-tech STEM wing, complete with a state-of-the-art organic chemistry lab.

To celebrate the addition to the University’s oldest commonwealth campus, officials and supporters alike gathered March 4 for a groundbreaking ceremony. Officials said the new addition, dubbed the Charles W. Dent STEM wing, will support the campus’ current health degree programs, allowing the campus to grow a necessary educational pipeline for health professionals and provide more undergraduate research opportunities.

“With this important new addition to the campus, Penn State Lehigh Valley is answering the new challenge of training a skilled workforce and fueling the wave of innovation underway,” said Penn State President Eric Barron, who offered remarks to a crowd of nearly 250 attendees.

“Given that healthcare is the largest employer in our region, the demand for workers with a background in science and technology is constant,” Barron said.

Targeted to open in January 2021, the three-story addition will offer a new dining facility on the first floor, student service spaces on the second floor, and the STEM wing on the third floor.

A rendering of the planned Penn State Lehigh Valley expansion. (image courtesy PSU-LV)

“Today marks the next important step in the evolution of the Penn State Lehigh Valley campus and the educational opportunities we bring to this region,” said Dr. Tina Q. Richardson, chancellor, Penn State Lehigh Valley, who provided opening and closing remarks. “Every part of this expansion strategically aligns to the needs of our students and those of local employers.”

A 1982 Penn State graduate, former U.S. Rep. Charles Dent discussed his connection to the university during the ceremony held just steps away from where the expansion will be erected. Dent was previously designated a “Friend of Penn State” via a legislative award in 2016, and was also recognized with Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019 for his continued support of his alma mater.

“You are doing a great deal to strengthen the mission of this great university, it makes me so proud to be a part of this community,” Dent said.

Funded in part by PPL Corporation CEO Bill Spence and his wife Denise, the expansion will contribute to the region’s growing economy by making it easier for more students to stay in Lehigh Valley to complete their educational journey.

“And that’s why today is so important – it’s about expanding opportunity right here in our own backyard for the next generation of leaders, scientists, doctors and more,” said Spence, a 1979 graduate from Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, where he earned a bachelor’s degree petroleum and natural gas engineering.

For Penn State Lehigh Valley Student Government Association President Hibah Akbar, the expansion project is essential for the completion for work in her pre-med major.

“This expansion will allow for more STEM majors to take classes like organic chemistry close to home,” Akbar said. “But even if you’re not in STEM, it’ll open doors for further classes, majors, and conversations to be had about initiatives, education, and further diversification that is already being seen by our students.”

The new addition is strategically placed next to the south entrance where it is highly visible from the main road, giving the building a new identity to passersby.

Spillman Farmer Architects and Alvin H. Butz, Inc. were selected for the expansion project.  The new expansion will be built collaboratively and offer new opportunities for student interns to work side-by-side with the construction team from Alvin H. Butz, Inc.

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