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Progress Toward a Dynamic, Urban Campus

One year into the making of the Academic Village at Point Park University
By Cheryl Valyo

A year after unveiling the Academic Village at Point Park University, the $244 million campus and public enhancement space plan that is already well on the way toward transforming the University and Downtown Pittsburgh, Point Park has made significant strides toward making the initiative a reality.

At a news conference and campus luncheon for business, government and community leaders on April 23, the University announced the results of a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Economy League on the Economic Impact of the Academic Village and provided an update on design and construction.

According to the report, the Academic Village will add nearly $280 million in total value to the economy. Commissioned by the University last year, the study measured direct, indirect and induced economic output, as well as jobs and compensation created by the initiative. The Academic Village will generate 3,700 full- and part-time jobs through direct spending, and indirect and induced ripple effects in the local economy.

The University also announced that it has secured commitments of support from key local legislators who recognize the importance of the Academic Village Initiative and the impact it will have on Downtown Pittsburgh; legislators include: Sen. Wayne Fontana, Sen. Jay Costa, Rep. Jake Wheatley, Rep. Paul Costa, and Rep. Dan Frankel.

"The past year has been one of significant progress on the Academic Village," said Point Park President Paul Hennigan. "We have made $30 million in investments to campus facilities, received widespread support from the community, and are developing plans to break ground on such key elements as the urban park this year."

University Architect Appointed to Oversee Initiative, Lead Design Teams

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Photo by Karen Meyers

A $2 million grant from The Heinz Endowments made it possible to begin a comprehensive design process for construction of the Academic Village and supported the appointment of the University's first-ever architect/planner. Last spring, architect Elmer Burger joined the University to oversee the initiative in its entirety and help construct an environmental, sustainable overlay for the project.

A Pittsburgh native, Burger has more than 30 years of experience in architecture, design, project management and field supervision. His experience encompasses education, urban design, office buildings, hotels, sports facilities and public housing. Burger has worked in such cities as Boston and Washington, D.C., but has spent much of his career in his hometown, where his projects have included Pittsburgh's award-winning PNC Firstside Center.

The Academic Village project "couldn't offer a more challenging and exciting opportunity for an architect," said Burger. "The University's vision and integration with Downtown Pittsburgh creates some extraordinary design challenges, which I greatly enjoy." He said he also appreciates collaborating with a variety of architects and engineers and other design team members, and looks forward to engaging the involvement of stakeholders such as students, faculty and the University's neighbors.

Growth rooted in Urban Park, Wood Street Enhancements

The University also announced that Tasso Katselas Associates (TKA) Inc. and Klavon Design, both Pittsburgh-based architectural firms, will develop plans for the urban park at the corner of Wood Street and the Blvd. of the Allies. Preliminary concepts include a variety of trees, a water feature and complementary retail elements. The University expects to break ground on the park in fall 2009.

"While the park is an important amenity for our campus community, it is also an attractive feature for the city," said Burger. "We look forward to sharing our design plans with our Downtown neighbors and to receiving their input on the project. We want to be sure we are creating a place with amenities that everyone will enjoy throughout the year."

Governor Edward Rendell and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) announced that the University has been awarded a $3.95 million grant from its Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative for upgrades and enhancements to the Wood Street Corridor. The grant is the largest of 50 awarded throughout the state and it fund the milling and resurfacing of Wood Street; installation of accessible sidewalks and curbs; and the addition of distinctive pedestrian-scaled street lighting and new and efficient signaling systems at the intersections with the Boulevard of the Allies and Third Avenue. With the help of the Heinz Endowments grant, the University engaged GAI Consultants Inc., a Pittsburgh-based engineering firm, to design the streetscape improvements that will extend from Fort Pitt Boulevard to Third Avenue. The design and survey phases have been completed and construction is expected to be initiated later this year.

The project will include the planting of trees and resurfacing of the street, which will feature such elements as exposed aggregate and granite. Other improvements will include new pedestrian lighting, new street signals and signage, and Point Park "way-finding" signage. With Burger as liaison, GAI is working with TKA and Klavon to ensure that the design concepts for the Wood Street Corridor and the park complement each other.

While the initial focus of the Wood Street Corridor is the area between Ft. Pitt Blvd. and Third Ave., the University intends to eventually extend the streetscape design to Forbes Avenue and various cross streets, as funding permits, according to Burger. "The process is just beginning to unfold."

One of the most anticipated future elements of the Academic Village is a new eight-story student center in the former YMCA building on the Blvd. of the Allies. The first stage of the design process, a request for qualifications from prospective architectural teams, has been completed. The University has solicited proposals from several design teams, said Burger, who accompanied the architects in their review of the existing building.

The University continues to expand the campus with the purchase of 101 Wood Street. The building is being evaluated for use, such as a welcome center that will include the Office of Admissions, and will finalize plans as the existing tenant transitions out over the next two years.

As the Academic Village continues to outwardly transform Point Park's Downtown neighborhood, internal changes are also being implemented to meet the needs of the University's schools, departments and administrative offices.

WTW Architects of Pittsburgh and Comprehensive Facility Planners, Inc. (CFP) of Columbus, Ohio are working behind-the-scenes to help the University develop its master space plan, including recommendations for locating academic and administrative spaces and other key facilities.

Last May the School of Business moved from Thayer Hall into its new home on floors 11, 12 and 13 in the West Penn building at Wood Street and Ft. Pitt Blvd. After a $5 million renovation led by TKA Architects and Massaro Corp., the space encompasses classrooms, offices, and conference rooms.

Thayer Hall's ninth and tenth floors are now home to classrooms and offices in the new School of Communication. In addition, the Department of Criminal Justice has moved to the fifth floor of Academic Hall, the Registrar's Office moved to the ninth floor of Thayer Hall, the PCHE Offices have moved to the second floor of Thayer Hall and the International Offices have moved to Frontier Hall.

For more information about The Academic Village, and to read the report on the Economic Impact of the Academic Village by the Pennsylvania Economy League, go to