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Volume 68 Number 33 | Almanac of the University of Pennsylvania

Penn GSE Opens Historic Building Expansion

A major Graduate School of Education (GSE) construction project will connect and expand two adjacent 1965 buildings, significantly increasing the school’s square footage and significantly reconfiguring existing space. A groundbreaking ceremony this week officially kicked off the construction phase of the project.

About 100 people attended the April 19 event, which was held in a tent in the yard next to the Walnut and 37th Streets buildings, just off Locust Walk.

Announcing a “revolutionary future for revolutionary educators,” Acting President Wendell Pritchett noted that this was the first major expansion since GSE moved into the building at 3700 Walnut St. in 1966, a year after the construction of the complex. “The world changed dramatically during this time, and so did our approaches to education.”

When Pam Grossman became dean of GSE in 2015, the school was already ‘full to bursting’, she said, and she set her sights on an expansion and renovation, beginning planning and fundraising in 2017. The school’s student population doubled to 1,400 in the two decades following the renovation of 3700 Walnut St. in 2001. As a result, GSE community workspaces were scattered over and beyond campus.

“It was clear that our 1965 building with its small classrooms and limited student space no longer matched Penn GSE’s grand ambitions,” said Dean Grossman. “The expansion will create cutting-edge learning spaces for our students and fulfills our vision of a ‘One Penn GSE’ by bringing our community together in one building here in the heart of the University of Pennsylvania campus, where our students, faculty and staff can collaborate in new ways.

The building expansion comes at a critical time for educators and education, said Dean Grossman, as well as for Penn GSE, which this year was ranked the best graduate school in the nation by US News and World Report.

“We are here today in a world that we could not have imagined when this project began. Right now, I would say, preparing educators for what lies ahead is one of the most important undertakings facing higher education,” said Dean Grossman.

“I think we are only beginning to realize the full impact of the past two years on our educational landscape. Young people are in trouble. Teachers are struggling, leaders are struggling, and the very future of public education seems at stake,” she said. “So it’s time to reinvent education and reinvest in educators.”

Construction on the $35.6 million project will begin in May and is expected to be completed in August 2023, for fall occupancy. The central four-story building at 3700 Walnut St. will connect to nearby Stiteler Hall, the former home of the political science department. The new construction will be 16,200 square feet, including an extension in part of the yard, and the renovated area will be 16,900 square feet, for a total of 33,100 square feet.

In addition to consolidating the two buildings, the project will create a new two-story glass entrance, provide additional collaboration space, make the buildings accessible, and create a new home for Catalyst @ Penn GSE, the center for education and Global Innovation Now at 3440 Noyer Street. The buildings will also house teaching laboratories, mixed-use classrooms and offices.

Young people face a complex future that will require lifelong learning to keep up with the accelerating pace of change, said Dean Grossman. Students and teachers will need support to manage the impacts of racial injustice and political polarization, and to develop tools to foster inclusion and civic dialogue, she said, and those responsible for education must be innovative and enterprising and work across borders to provide students with what they need. .

“At Penn GSE, we prepare educators for the future,” said Dean Grossman. “Our expanded building will bring together the future teachers, leaders, researchers, policy makers, advisors and innovators who must work together as they prepare to reinvent education and change the lives and trajectories of learners of all ages.”

Caption: Dean Pam Grossman said the expansion and renovation of the building will help achieve the school's vision for

Doug Korn, Chairman of the Penn GSE Advisory Board, said this is a “pivotal moment” for GSE that will impact learners for generations to come.

“The building expansion will provide a beautiful home for Penn GSE into its second century and position the school to continue to play an important role in improving the lives of millions of people through education,” said Mr. Korn, who graduated from the Wharton School in 1984.

During this construction period, some class schedules will be modified and faculty and staff will be accommodated with flexible hours, accommodations and hybrid working as needed.

Change and evolution are fundamental in education, Acting President Pritchett said, and require new tools, new technologies and new social climates. The expansion and renovation of the building will allow students to be immersed in educational innovation, he said, allowing GSE to better prepare students who will catalyze policy and practice.

Acting President Pritchett noted that the new structure has many windows, recalling a quote from journalist Sydney Harris: “The purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

“Education should not just reflect our own beliefs and the current state of society. Education must illuminate the dark corners of our world. It should enlighten our minds and help us envision new ways to create better societies for all,” said Acting President Pritchett, who is on the GSE faculty as the James S. Riepe Presidential Professor of Law and of education.

“That’s why we have a lot of windows. This building will embody this idea in form and function. It will be a landmark of learning, a launching pad for passionate educators who are creating windows to a better future.

Philip Chen, director and president of Ann Beha Architects in Boston, said entrances to existing buildings currently face the courtyard and the new design intentionally changes that perspective.

“The GSE mission is the exact opposite of this posture. This is a school that is passionate about campus engagement, other school engagement, city engagement, and extending its influence across Philadelphia and truly across the world,” said Mr. Chen. “This building, this project, not only reflects that commitment, but it brings everyone together here in one facility, in a new home, accessible, sustainable, flexible, connective and collaborative.”

Adapted from a Penn today Article by Louisa Shepard, April 21, 2022.

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