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$5.5 million Penn State center opens doors

When students and faculty of Penn State McKeesport stepped on campus for the first time this semester, they were greeted by a new $5.5 million student/community center standing prominently where the old Buck Union building once stood.

The 25,000-square-foot Penn State McKeesport Student Community Center officially opened two weeks ago.

Campus executive Director Curtiss E. Porter said the opening of the facility came after 28 months of planning, preparation and construction. Porter, who arrived on campus in 1999, said that there were previous attempts to build a new student center, but each had ended in failure.

“The Buck Union building was outmoded by time,” Porter said. Problems with the air conditioning system and the “maze of levels” resulting from various parts of the structure having been rebuilt over the years had made it necessary build an entirely new structure.

But before construction could begin, officials had to conduct a feasibility study, create a funding package and navigate successfully through a design phase.

J. Kirk Urey, director of business and finance, said of the $5.5 million project cost, approximately $2 million came from donors and $3.5 million from university sources. He said students donated about $150,000 to the project over a 19 year period.

The new center not only houses a dining center, cafe, game center, and a number of plasma televisions, but accommodates student clubs, a health center, areas for studying and a community multi-purpose room. The Student Affairs Office, Student Government Office and the student-run newspaper and radio station are also located in the facility.

An 80 percent scale model of the original Penn State lion shrine located at University Park in State College graces the center’s grounds.

“It’s enlivened the campus,” Porter said of the center. “The most common thing I hear people say is that it gives the campus a real university feel. By virtue of its architecture, it ties the campus together and makes it a signature of the campus and an asset to the community.”

Porter said the community surrounding the campus has been an important factor in the entire planning process.

“In the Pittsburgh area, we’ve been Penn State’s academic presence, and we’ve always sought to emphasize that,” Porter said.

He noted that Penn State, which was classified as a land grant university by President Abraham Lincoln, not only aims to educate its students, but also remain engaged in the general community.

“The Center is an expression of this mission,” Porter said. “We want the community to find itself welcome on campus.

During the facility’s planning phase, Porter admits there was some controversy as to the extent to which the building should be a community center as opposed to a student center. The debate has since been resolved, and he estimates that approximately 80 percent of the center is student-focused while 20 percent provides assets to the community.

Paul Adams Jr., a freshman from Wilmerding, says that the new building “makes it feel like a serious university.” He says he enjoys the food, the arcade, and especially the book store, which used to be located in a trailer.

“It’s a nice, open atmosphere and creates a nice mood,” Adams said.

Joe Marchesani, assistant professor of film, appreciates that the facility is “not the traditional box.” He senses that the students are happy to be there and, overall, “everyone feels very comfortable in here.”

Penn State McKeesport will hold a grand opening celebration on October 16-18.

Additional Information:

Grand Opening Celebration

Thursday, Oct. 16

  • 6 p.m.: Ribbon cutting celebration and tours. Special guest will be Graham B. Spanier, Penn State University president

  • 7 p.m.: Musical preformance by Harold Betters Jazz Ensemble

    Friday, Oct. 17

  • Noon: Penn State Athletic Luncheon at Station Square sponsored by Monroeville Chamber of Commerce. Ticket rquired.

  • 2 p.m. ‘Dialogue with the Faculty,’ featuring Veronica Montecinos, associate professor of sociology speaker.

  • 7:30 p.m.: Performance by the Thunderbird Dancers

    Saturday, Oct. 18

  • 9 a.m.: Admissions open house for prospective students and families

  • Friends and Families Weekend

  • Nittany Lion Shrine dedication on The William L. Buck Family Green.

  • Noon – 2 p.m.: Alumni luncheon/tailgate party

  • 2-3:30: Community open house


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