Scaffolding covers the outside of the Clayton University Center as construction continues inside and outside the building. Jim LaRose, Lehigh’s lead project manager, said the exterior construction should be nearing completion at the start of Spring 2024 semester. (Maeve Kelly/ B&W Staff)

A look inside the ‘heart of campus’: Clayton UC construction update


As students settle into the fall semester, Lehigh’s Clayton University Center remains under construction with structural and cosmetic changes expected on both the exterior and interior of the building. 

The Clayton UC will have a soft opening in Spring 2025 but will not officially be open to the community until Fall 2025 in order to provide Dining Services adequate time to adjust to the move.

The goal for the construction timeline is to complete the “envelope of the building” by this winter said Jim LaRose, Lehigh’s lead project manager.

The majority of the exterior renovations are currently taking place on the south and west sides of the building. Roof slates have been replaced on the south side. 

LaRose said the masonry of the building, or the stonework, is being restored underneath the scaffolding. As exterior construction wraps up, the scaffolding will begin to be disassembled later this fall. 

He said exterior construction should be mostly completed by the start of the spring 2024 semester and window installations will follow in February or March 2024.

As for utilities, LaRose said all systems must be replaced due to their age. Plumbing, sprinkler, gas and telecom lines, in addition to storm line tie-ins from Linderman, which prevent flooding, will be installed to better support the size of the Clayton UC. 

LaRose said the interior of the building is about 98% demolished, and now that remodeling inside is underway, the drawings for the design are coming to life. Using the original designs and building information models, updated 3D drawings are created based on the physical space available post-demolition.

Carpentry will begin the interior renovations on the fourth floor and work their way down, and LaRose said concrete fill-ins are currently being installed for the living room pipes.

He said one of the main goals when designing the interior layout was to create a more open atmosphere. 

Renderings show plans for the Great Room on the top floor of the renovated Clayton University Center. (Courtesy of Jim LaRose)

“The architects described it as porosity,” LaRose said. “We want to make it more porous: more open and much easier to navigate the building.” 

He said the building will be easier to navigate with more open space and signage, and interior storefront glass will be used in some of the student centers instead of traditional drywall, all to create a brighter and more welcoming environment. 

Additionally, the Club Hub, a space for student organizations to gather, will have an exposed ceiling revealing mechanical systems in the building. 

A new staircase will be added connecting the second and third floors of the building and will be located on the south side of the building, near the Trembley Drive entrance. Beyond practicality, LaRose said the staircase will be an “aesthetic” addition that will lead directly to the 100-person board room on the third floor. 

Located across the hall, the large room on the east side of the third floor will house a pub, LaRose said. 

Earlier this year, questions arose about the pub when Lehigh was denied a liquor license, but Lehigh is confident they will obtain one by the end of the renovations, said David Joseph, executive director of auxiliary services for housing, dining and conference services.

Renderings show plans for new pub inside Clayton University Center. Lehigh was previously denied for a liquor license, but are confident they will acquire one before opening. (Courtesy of Jim LaRose)

“We are continuing to work with Lehigh’s General Counsel, outside legal counsel and the Pennsylvania State Liquor Control Board to make sure that we have a license,” Joseph said.

Construction has caused closures on Trembley Drive and Library Drive. 

Maddy Bavaro, ‘26, said the construction has obstructed her regular route to class. She said she can no longer cut through central campus like she used to do and now must circle around campus to get to her classes at the bottom of the mountain.

“Although I am not a big fan of the construction, I understand why they have to do it,” Bavaro said. “I understand how old the (Clayton) UC was, and I understand for the future, it will be a great thing.” 

LaRose said students should expect for Library Drive to reopen soon after additional work is completed this fall, said LaRose. 

He said the fencing currently partially blocking the main lawn will be pulled back as construction continues and exterior renovations wrap up later in the process. 

Although the building is adapting a 21st-century feel, Ric Hall, vice president of student affairs, said maintaining the building’s history is an important part of the renovation. 

Instead of looking at the Clayton UC as a dining facility, Hall hopes it will become the heart of campus with more student involvement and activity where everyone feels connected and comfortable. 

“Our past and our history tie us to our present and our future,” Hall said. “So it was important to keep that look of the Clayton University Center.” 

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