Editor’s note: The University Center was misidentified as the oldest building on campus in a previous version of this article. It formally is named Packer Hall, the University Center.
The University Center, also known as Packer Hall, was built in 1866. Because of the bell-tower and Gothic edifice, it is considered the face of the university, and the historic building will undergo renovations within the next few years.
The University Center is home to Upper and Lower Court, Wells Fargo, administrative offices and student study spaces is in the early planning stages for a long-term renovation project with earliest expected completion in 2020. The University Center Renovation Committee, created in 2010, consists of 25 people of students, faculty and staff who came together to discuss conceptional designs and a possible addition to the building.
Pat Johnson, the vice president for finance and administration and co-chair of the University Center renovation committee, said the University Center renovation was part of the master plan.
In September 2015, the new University Center renovation committee sent out a student survey to assess students’ wants and interests about the renovations. The data from the survey is still being collected and sorted, Allison Gulati, the associate dean and director of strategic initiatives, wrote in an email.
Gulati said student feedback will be considered in the renovations. National trends and data that has worked in other renovation projects, how the University Center’s renovations fit in with the large scale renovations for Lehigh’s campus, and what the renovations can provide for Lehigh in the future will also be taken into consideration.
“One of the goals of the University Center is to be the crossroads of the campus,” Johnson said. “Some people feel that to put it all in one place is important because your upper class and younger students mix. But then other people think that there should be a separate dining facility for the underclassman students because they are the ones who use the all-you-can-eat dining the most.”
The committee is also discussing the clubs that should have program spaces in the building to make a more student-centered University Center. Part of this goal has already been met by moving the Student Affairs Office from the University Center to William’s Hall.
“By moving some of the administrative departments out of the University Center, it will open up more undedicated space that can be reallocated for student meetings, clubs and organizations and study space,” Gulati said.
The renovations will reconstruct the building to ensure the space is used as effectively as possible.
“It’s a matter of making it more efficient, more energy efficient, more useful of a space for students,” Johnson said. “It needs to be more beneficial.”
The University Center renovations are part of the sustainable plan for Lehigh’s buildings. Johnson said the committee has been looking to renovate Christmas-Saucon, Chandler-Ullmann and buildings at Mountaintop to build more collaborative spaces which is an important aspect for these renovations.
The committee is in the planning stages of the process. Johnson said if the program is approved by the board of trustees, they will move forward to the conceptual designs. Then the schematic designs for the University Center overhaul project will be created. The earliest the finished project could be displayed for the public is 2020.
“Projects of this scale and importance take a few years to come to fruition, and we are still some time away from the actual construction phase, so I would imagine there will be more to come on this aspect of the project in the upcoming year,” Gulati said.
Anna D’Ginto, ’16, the Student Senate president and student representative on the University Center renovation committee, noted the historical significance of the building and the importance of preserving its character.
“The committee wants to make the University Center renovations to be timeless and to appeal and to serve the students of future generations, because that is who we are building it for,” she said.