Cal U. student union expansions on course

March 18, 2013
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Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter An expansion project slated for the student union is back on track at California University of Pennsylvania.
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Renderings provided by California University of Pennsylvania
The expanded Natali Student Center at California University of Pennsylvania will feature a new rotunda near the main entrance to the student union.
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The Heritage Lounge will be created as a central gathering space inside the main entrance to the renovated student union.

CALIFORNIA – Construction will begin this spring on scaled-back renovations and expansions to the student union at California University of Pennsylvania to address crowded stairwells and insufficient food preparation space.

Among the more impressive additions to the Natali Student Center will be a large rotunda near the building’s main entrance to serve as part of a large gathering space to be called the Heritage Lounge.

“This building has been patched and repaired many times over the past few years, and those repair costs will continue to rise if the building is allowed to deteriorate,” acting Cal U. President Geraldine M. Jones said.

Jones called a halt to what was expected to be a $35 million student-funded project when appointed to the post in May 2012 at a time when the university was facing a budget deficit of nearly $12 million. The deficit has since been trimmed to $2.5 million.

Portions of the student center date to 1970, and renovations in 1992 and 2000 created a 97,000-square-foot student union and dining hall.

Jones said students and staff have expressed the need for a roomier dining hall, more options in the food court and a comfortable place for them to gather. The students then agreed in a 2011 vote to spend more money on student center fees to cover the cost of construction.

The cost of the work has been reduced to $30 million by fine-tuning the budget, eliminating nonessential costs and reusing some of the building’s furnishings, Cal U. spokeswoman Christine Kindl said. The size of the addition also was reduced from 40,000 square feet to 31,215 square feet.

Jones and other Cal U. administrators later approved the project after conducting an in-depth review of the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing deficiencies and finding ways to reduce the project’s cost.

“Our decision hinged on the need to repair serious problems with the student center’s aging infrastructure and outmoded design,” Jones said. “Renovating this aging student center not only improves student life, but also provides a safer environment for our students.”

The building will remain open during construction, which is scheduled to begin after the May commencement, Kindle said. Dining services will be relocated to Gallagher Hall while the building is enlarged.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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