Penn College Rededicates Former HON Facility

Published 08.12.2003


Pennsylvania College of Technology has rededicated the former HON Industries Inc. manufacturing plant as an instructional facility named College Avenue Labs.

The College acquired the 104,000-gross-square-foot facility, situated on 6.5 acres south of West Third Street in Williamsport and just west of the College's Main Campus, in 2001, as the result of a gift-purchase arrangement initiated by HON officials after the company announced plans to close the Williamsport plant.

"It was an unprecedented opportunity for us to take an exceptional industrial and warehouse facility, located immediately adjacent to our campus, and convert it into an instructional facility that will prepare a new generation of workers for jobs here in Northcentral Pennsylvania and around the world," said Penn College President Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour.

The College paid only $750,000 of the $3,468,464 transaction; the rest was gifted by HON Industries Inc. Jack Kirik, retired vice president for manufacturing services at HON, said company officials were very pleased by the positive outcome of the agreement. Kirik was set to be on hand for the rededication ceremony.

Renovations cost approximately $7.3 million. Lobar Inc., Dillsburg, was the general contractor. Two Williamsport firms, R&J Ertel, plumbing, and Turnkey Construction, electrical, were involved in the renovation work, along with Silvertip, Lewisburg, HVAC, and Johnson Controls, Camp Hill, facilities management. The architect was Murray Associates, Harrisburg.

The president said it was not difficult to incorporate the property into the rest of the campus, as previously a thoroughfare and parking-lot area actually served both Penn College and HON.

"The structure literally was at our back door," she said. "Students and faculty will find it an easy walk to classes in the College Avenue Labs."

The renovation resulted in a repositioning of the front entrance of the building, which had been along West Third Street, to the east side of the building along College Avenue. This change will help to better coordinate traffic and parking for the building. The other major change to the outside of the facility was painting the building in a yellow-beige and blue combination and adding landscaping to complement other campus buildings.

A reception area is positioned inside the front entrance. In the hallways, exposed ceilings with white ceiling-tile "clouds" and selected art pieces maintain an industrial atmosphere that also is comfortable for instruction. Lab areas maintain the original concrete floors appropriate to their use; floors are carpeted in hallways, offices and classrooms. These classrooms will accommodate growing enrollments in general education classes, such as mathematics, which were offered only in the Klump Academic Center in the past, the president said.

"This building offers what might be considered the prototype for an intelligent large-group classroom," Dr. Gilmour explained. "Computer technology, projectors, screens, voice, data and video capabilities, and the ability to divide these large spaces into smaller rooms, will give faculty a wide range of options in offering instruction. Students really will experience the best possible learning environment."

A $100,000 Community Revitalization Program state grant, announced by Sen. Roger A. Madigan last fall, provided funds for the equipment in these "intelligent" classrooms. Other contributions also have helped provide the most advanced technology in classrooms and laboratories. PPG Automotive Refinish and DuPont Performance Castings each provided a mixing room for the Collision Repair area, as well as related materials, training and equipment, and 3M provided materials and supplies.

Collision Repair, Automated Manufacturing and Civil Engineering Technology are the three program areas relocated to College Avenue Labs. Each area doubled or tripled the amount of space available for instruction. Collision Repair moved from the Parkes Automotive Center, where labs now will accommodate growth in other automotive-related programming. Civil Engineering Technology relocated from the basement of the Klump Academic Center, which now houses Paramedic Technology laboratories. Automated Manufacturing's move from the Breuder Advanced Technology and Health Sciences Center allows for future expansion of the Plastics and Polymer Technology programs.

"Each of the program areas impacted by the move into the College Avenue Labs has experienced growth in recent years and has the potential for continued growth in the future," the president said. "Because we have more instructional space available, we can begin to accept more students who wish to focus their studies on these growing career fields. We expect to enroll an additional 100 students each year, thanks to the addition of this facility."

The president said that, since its start, this project has been one that struck an emotional chord with those involved.

"Whenever a business leaves town and local people lose their jobs, it's difficult for the community," she said. "When HON announced it was closing, our first thought was to get our people over there to help those workers figure out what they wanted to do with their futures. We always provide career services when an area business announces a layoff or a closing. Of course, this time it came very close to home; it affected our neighbor. We were very surprised when that neighbor turned around and offered us an opportunity to turn the loss into a gain to turn an empty factory into a lively, instructional facility. We appreciate that HON wanted to continue to make a difference in our community."

The College Avenue Labs will officially open Monday, Aug. 18 the first day of classes for the fall semester.