Summer was a season of construction at Penn State Scranton

By: Erika Winklebleck
Projects will improve existing facilities and give the campus a new look

When students return to Penn State Scranton for the fall semester, they will notice that a lot has changed.

In addition to the campus’ new name change, which officially took effect on May 1, major renovation and improvement projects began in several areas of campus, and some will still be in the final stages when they arrive, with full completion scheduled to happen by mid-September.

A new home for the campus’ Lion Shrine

One of the major projects started this year involved replacing the patio between the Dawson Building and Study Learning Center, using a design that was developed with the help of Penn State Scranton students.

A major component of that project included moving the Lion Shrine from its original home at the campus' entrance to the west end of the patio overlooking lower campus.

On a scorching hot July day, with the rumbles and loud reverse-warning beeps of construction vehicles and heavy machinery resonating across the patio, a growing crowd of onlookers gathered and anxiously watched from several areas of campus as a crane appeared through the entrance. 

Staff and students craned their necks and peeked through windows or even stopped what they were doing to step outside and join others to observe this historic event. Some cheered, while some wondered how long this would take.

A large crane would be the “big dog” in the final phases of moving the beloved Lion Shrine, which had been located the at entrance to Penn State Scranton for almost 20 years -- since 2002.

It was dedicated to the campus on Sept. 10, 2002; lead contributors to the project were the Greater Scranton Penn State Chapter, the Wayne Pike Penn State Chapter and the Penn State Worthington Scranton Alumni Society.

Emotions were elevated

There was a feeling of nervous anticipation as the contractors fastened belts around the lion’s torso and under its belly. Then the crane huffed, lifting the lion slowly into the air.

The crowd gasped and cheered, and those with cell captured the historic moments with videos and pictures.

It was a site to see for the emotional spectators, as the iconic lion was suspended over 15 feet in the air and gracefully placed on a large flatbed truck that drove it across the patio to its new home at the other end of the patio.

Watching their Nittany Lion being strapped to the crane and then slowly lifted into the air and onto a flatbed truck sent many long-time employees on a trip down memory lane:  some even shedding a tear with pride and fond memories of the first Lion Shrine’s initial placement. 

Dr. Marwan Wafa, Penn State Scranton’s chancellor, was in the thick of it all, taking great pride and an active, hands-on role in the process of overseeing the placement of the large granite slab that would be the Nittany Lion’s new lair, and then also working with the construction crew to make sure the lion was placed at the ideal angle and position. 

The backdrop to the newly placed Lion Shrine is now of the surrounding mountains and the Lackawanna Valley; a gorgeous site for all to see and sure to make a perfect backdrop for future Lion Shrine photos.

Once it was in place, Wafa signed his name on the slab with a faculty-provided permanent marker, putting his personal mark on this joyous event. 

While all of this was taking place, the rest of the campus was still buzzing with its normal summer activities -- kids attending the Nittany Lion Summer Cub Camps; faculty members and students going to and from classes; and in the midst of it all, an array of workers adorning hardhats and driving large construction vehicles in the blocked-off construction zones, who continued working.

Among those workers was George Akulonis, owner of Pro Gro Landscape Specialists and an active member of the Penn State Scranton Alumni Society, who is one of the professionals working on the patio project and who helped make the Lion move happen that day. He was as excited as everyone else gathered at the site.

Penn State Pride

Since it’s placement at the campus entrance almost two decades ago, the Lion Shrine has represented more than a symbol of Penn State.

For many, especially those who drove past it every day on their way to campus, it is a part of their lives -- representing a love for education, a sense of community, and a feeling of pride in being part of something bigger. 

It was a place where people took their children for photos, or to gather at graduation for group and family photos.

For many of those present that day, the moving of the shrine brought out humor, pride, and nostalgia.

“Penn State to Houston, we have lift off,” Julia Sklareski, a Penn State Scranton senior studying corporate communication, jokingly announced. 

Coordinator of Community Relations and Communications Amy Gruzesky, also a campus alumna, admitted that she actually got a bit teary-eyed watching the rehoming event.

The Nittany Lion is an iconic Penn State symbol, uniting all Penn Staters and lion shrines adorn most of the 24 commonwealth Penn State campuses, serving as a reminder, that WE ARE all Penn Staters!

It is so ingrained in Penn State lore, that many may not realize that the Nittany Lion, as a mascot and symbol of Penn State, is well over 100 years old. Harrison D. "Joe" Mason, a 1907 University alumnus, is credited with persuading the University to adopt the Nittany Lion as its mascot.  The rest, as they say, is history.

And, now, at Penn State Scranton, that part of Penn State history will continue to watch over the campus and its students, staff and faculty for more decades to come – in the exact same location that the campus’ dedication took place in 1968.

When the patio project is completely finished, there will also be new trees and grassy areas for students to relax, as well as a clock tower monument to Worthington Scranton, the campus’ former namesake, and the Scranton family, who continue to support the campus and its students.’

From landscaping to technology – a new IST lab is also in the works

Another major campus project taken on this summer was the Information Sciences and Technology Active Learning and Innovation Lab – a project made possible by a generous $100,000 donation from campus alumna, Suzanne “Sue” Thomas.

The new space will promote peer-to-peer and student-led learning, encouraging students to consider each other's resources, helping them build an intellectual network of students, information and technology.

It will also increase the level of student engagement through problem-based learning by focusing on real-world technology challenges.

Adjacent to the new instructional space will be a suite for IST faculty and a conference room.

"I am extremely grateful that I have the means to provide this help to Penn State Scranton," said Thomas. "I have made many friends and contacts as a result of being a Penn State graduate. I feel that although I am a big Penn State athletics fan, there is so much more at Penn State. With this IST program, many students will benefit from the new center. I am following my hero Joe Paterno's belief that academics is just as important as football."

This gift is just one of many that Thomas has made to the campus. Over the years, she established a memorial scholarship for her parents; created an undergraduate student research endowment in science; established a Chancellor’s Discretionary Fund; supported the Matt McGloin Baseball Field; and given to other projects and programs.

Former tennis courts get a new purpose

Tennis used to be one of the physical education credit options at Penn State Scranton, but over time, use of the the tennis courts decreased and they began to show their age.

However, with an increased interest in having recreational areas for students and the community to use, it was decided to give the old tennis courts a makeover while also making them more adaptable.

The old tennis courts are now getting re-purposed as multi-use courts, allowing for not only tennis, but basketball and other activities. They are easily accessible from the Multi-Purpose Building, the campus’ lower parking lot and the student housing located along University Drive.

Other new amenities await students

In addition to the major construction projects taking place this summer, other areas of campus are getting a bit of a facelift with the addition of new amenities and improvements.

The Hawk Student Success Center in the SLC now has an enclosed study pod to provide students a quiet, self-contained environment in which to study, either alone or in a small group.

The Library added a 3-D printer last semester and its use has been growing in popularity. In addition, the library staff was busy over the summer replacing and reorganizing shelving areas in the library, in order to make its collection easier to access and utilize.

There are now large, cushioned booths in The View Café for more comfortable seating, along with armchairs and two new murals, including a large mural of campus photos.

A new sign at the campus entrance welcomes visitors to Penn State Scranton.

And, thanks to efforts by the Student Government Association, there are now diaper changing stations and foot pulls in campus restrooms.