A renovated Coover Hall reopens to Cal U engineering, arts students

Eric Morris

An 80-year-old academic building on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania is wearing its age well following extensive interior upgrades.

The university recently completed a two-year renovation of Coover Hall, which houses the applied engineering technology department – including the mechatronics engineering technology, industrial technology and technology education programs – and spaces for art and graphic design.

When the building reopened for classes this fall, students returned to a modernized hall that offers high-tech labs, “smart” classrooms and collaborative workspaces.

“The overall design of the building includes laboratory and learning environments that provide long-term flexibility that will benefit students from a variety of discipline areas,” said Dr. Brenda L. Fredette, dean of Eberly College of Science and Technology.

“Overall, these improvements will allow students to engage in high-quality, hands-on STEM learning experiences related to research and individual as well as team project work. Working in a well-organized manufacturing space will allow students to develop the skills that will prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow.”

Specialized areas in the renovated hall include labs for automated controls, fluids, heavy fabrication, physical technologies, STEM/clean prototyping, strength and materials and senior projects, and studios for jewelry/metals, printmaking and sculpture/3-D design.

Robert Thorn, university vice president for administration and finance, said Coover Hall had for several years been on California’s list of capital projects for consideration as a “high priority” item as it awaited approval from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and funding through the state Department of General Services, which ultimately handled design and construction for the project.

“The building was in need of a complete infrastructure update,” said Thorn, adding that the majority of the work was performed to the interior of the building. “This is a very attractive, old building that got a face-lift inside.”

Carrying a price tag of more than $12 million – $11 million for renovation work and $1.1 million for built-in furnishings – the project refurbished three levels of the 40,000-square-foot building while expanding the hall by an additional 4,200 square feet, updating utilities and adding state-of-the-art technology.

The university held a rededication ceremony last week for the rehabilitated building.

“Coover Hall has been transformed into a thoroughly modern facility with all the latest technology,” said Cal U President Geraldine M. Jones to a crowd assembled on the lawn outside Coover Hall on Tuesday.

“This is a setting designed to support applied education – the practical hands-on learning that has been California’s hallmark for decades,” Jones said.

University officials said faculty helped to inform the renovation project to fit the needs of students.

“Months and years were spent not only on the state-of-the-art renovations,” said Dr. Kristen Majocha, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, “but on how high the design tables and the chairs should be, what shape the furniture should be to invite creativity and to inspire our students, what safety standards to ensure to make this an industry-worthy growth space for the people who will one day design that perfect piece of jewelry.”

Originally designed to house the school’s industrial arts program, Coover Hall was constructed in 1938 and opened to students the following year.

The building is named for the late Shriver L. Coover, a former California professor who founded the school’s inaugural industrial arts program, which at the time, was the only one of its kind in Western Pennsylvania.

Prior to Coover Hall’s refurbishment, the most recent renovation of an academic building on the Cal U. campus was completed in 2006, when Noss Hall, another 1930s-era building housing the school’s Academic Success offices, received a complete interior upgrade and new infrastructure.