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College Chooses to Build Anew at Former BiLo Site

Pennsylvania College of Technology has decided to construct a contemporary building that suits its specific needs rather than renovate the existing structure at the former BiLo property on West Fourth Street in Williamsport.

The college administration has determined it will be more cost-effective in the long run to build a one-story, 27,500- to 30,000-square-foot structure at the 1127 W. Fourth St. site, since renovating and retrofitting the former grocery store to conform to the college’s intended uses would require numerous design compromises and result in an abundance of wasted space.

“We soon began to realize that it’s going to be simpler to replace it than to renovate,” said Penn College Senior Vice President William J. Martin, who oversees construction and renovation projects at the institution. “Why not just build what we need?”

The projected energy savings created by more modern construction should allow the college to recover its additional building costs in just two or three years, Martin said.

When completed, the Center for Business and Workforce Development will be home to Penn College’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education, the Penn State Center for Continuing & Distance Education at Penn College, and the Industrial Modernization Center, all of which are currently housed at the Business and Technology Resource Center on Reach Road.

The new building will also include laboratories and faculty offices for the college’s electronics program.

The college is not averse to renovating structures when practical, Martin said, noting its success in retrofitting College Avenue Labs (the former HON Industries manufacturing plant on West Third Street). But that renovation involved a former industrial plant with a massive foundation and sturdier-than-normal construction.

Potential pitfalls in renovating the former BiLo supermarket include wooden trusses in the roof structure (instead of the typical metal-truss construction of modern commercial facilities) and higher-than-necessary ceilings, among other issues.

The college administration will take its plans to the board of directors in December. The land development plan will require approvals from the city and county planning commissions.

If all the necessary approvals are granted, demolition could take place as early as December or January, Martin said. Construction bids then would be sought in early March, with construction beginning sometime later that month or shortly thereafter. The hope is that the electronics program would be in place in the new facility by the Spring 2007 semester.

Moving WDCE and the other offices will be easier, Martin said, because they do not have to contend with academic-year constraints. “We’re excited about having those folks on campus,” he said, noting it will make for easier access to resources and allow WDCE to expand the array of services it offers to clients in the local community.

There will be an entrance on West Fourth Street for WDCE, the Penn State Center for Continuing & Distance Education at Penn College, and the Industrial Modernization Center. The south portion of the building, which will house eight electronics labs, along with faculty offices, will have an entrance facing Penn College’s main campus, facilitating access for students.

The college’s board of directors approved the purchase of the BiLo property for $1.45 million in December 2004. The purchase and associated renovation/construction costs are being financed by an $8.6 million bond issue that the board also approved in December. The bond issue will also finance retrofitting of campus facilities impacted by construction of the Student and Administrative Services Center (completed in late 2002) and the Roger and Peggy Madigan Library (opening in 2006), and renovation of the Klump Academic Center (completed in 2004).

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