News you might have missed from over the break

Pitt’s campuses were almost entirely shut down from Dec. 19 to Jan. 4, but news concerning the University continued to pop up. Here are a few highlights.

Bigelow Boulevard reopens

The final touches were put on the Bigelow Boulevard project and the roadway between Fifth and Forbes avenues reopened on Dec. 24.

The block between the Cathedral of Learning and William Pitt Union, as well as the plaza on the Fifth Avenue side of the union, closed on Nov. 1, 2019 for a complete revamp, including infrastructure underneath the roadway. The road and plaza were originally scheduled to reopen before the start of the fall 2020 semester, but the shutdown of construction early in the pandemic put the project behind schedule.

A new raised, mid-block crosswalk — designed to be safer for pedestrians — and the William Pitt Union grounds, including outdoor seating areas, accessibility ramps and an amphitheater opened in late October.

Reopening of the road to vehicle traffic was pushed back until December because concrete planters to control the flow of both pedestrians and vehicles were delayed because of the pandemic.

Pitt partnered with the city of Pittsburgh, which owns Bigelow Boulevard, on the project.

The total cost, including utility upgrades, streetscaping, landscaping and all of the work on the William Pitt Union grounds, is $23.7 million — funded by the Pitt general budget and a $1 million grant from the state.

Former Gov. Dick Thornburgh dies

Richard “Dick” Thornburgh, whose many accomplishments included serving as Pennsylvania’s governor from 1979-87 and U.S. attorney general from 1988-91, left an indelible mark at Pitt, where he earned his law degree in 1957.

Thornburgh, who died on Dec. 31 at 88, was a trustee emeritus for the University, served as chair of the board of visitors at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and was namesake of Pitt’s Dick Thornburgh Forum in Law and Public Policy, established in 2007 in his honor. The forum hosts lectures and other events to “enhance the accountability and integrity of governmental institutions at the local, state, and national levels.”

The University of Pittsburgh is mourning the loss of one of our most beloved members, and our thoughts are with Ginny and her sons at this time,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in a statement. “Dick Thornburgh stood in rare company as a leader, colleague and friend, and we are indisputably better off — as a University and a society — because of his incomparable integrity, ingenuity and dedication to serving others.”

Mark A. Nordenberg, chancellor emeritus and director of the Thornburgh Forum said: “Few people in the history of our country can claim a leadership record equal to Dick Thornburgh’s. Not only did he hold an extraordinary array of critical positions, but he made distinctive contributions to the greater good in each of his roles. Neither the high positions that he held nor the important work that he did ever changed Dick’s approach to other people, though. Instead, he remained unfailingly kind, respectful, empathetic and unpretentious, providing an inspiring example of leadership not only through what he did but also by how he did it.”

The Dick Thornburgh Papers, a collection related to his time as governor, were donated to Pitt in 1988. Some of the materials can be seen in the Thornburgh Room at Hillman Library.

For more on Thornburgh’s life and legacy, go to Pittwire.

Public Health to lead fracking studies

In December, Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health was awarded a $2.5 million contract by the state of Pennsylvania to research the potential health effects of hydraulic fracturing in the state.

The funding will be used for two epidemiological studies.

  • Evelyn Talbott, professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health and director of the Environmental Epidemiology section, “will investigate the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and the development of childhood cancers in southwestern Pennsylvania," a release from the office of Gov. Tom Wolf said.

  • Jeanine Buchanich, director of the Pitt Public Health's Center for Occupational Biostatistics and Epidemiology and research associate professor of biostatistics, will attempt to "replicate earlier studies on acute conditions, such as asthma and birth outcomes, using data from southwestern Pennsylvania."

In March 2020, the state Department of Health published a report on the number of Ewing’s Family of Tumors, cases of childhood cancer and total cancer cases in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

“We have heard the concerns from families and community members impacted by cancer and other health issues in the southwestern part of the state, and we are dedicated to taking the proper steps to keep our residents healthy,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said.

As part of the contract, Pitt Public Health will be producing public-facing summaries on a quarterly basis to give updates about the research. At the conclusion of the project, a public meeting will provide information on the final outcomes of the research

Money for Pitt–Bradford building

Pitt–Bradford received a $3 million grant from the state Redevelopment Assistance and Capital Program to help fund a new $22 million engineering and computer information technology building. 

“This new building will be a headquarters of innovation on our campus,” Catherine Koverola, Pitt-Bradford’s president, said in a news release, “where students will work on highly specialized projects and collaborations, so they are well prepared for STEM-related careers in our region and beyond.”

Currently, the project is in the design phase. Pitt-Bradford officials anticipate breaking ground in 2021 for the new building, which will be built on the lawn of Hanley Library. The two-story building will house a strength and materials lab, a fluid dynamics lab with a small hydro tunnel to test designs, a maker space with 3-D printing, and a virtual reality and augmented reality lab.

The building will be home to existing majors, energy science and technology, computer information systems and technology, and petroleum technology, as well as new majors, mechanical engineering technology and energy engineering technology.

“Without this new building to house our specialty equipment and labs,” Matt Kropf, associate professor of petroleum technology, said in the news release, “we wouldn’t be able to offer these new engineering technology programs that are in demand for our students. And without these new majors, our region’s need for a locally trained and skilled workforce would continue to go unmet.”

For more details, go to the Pitt–Bradford website.

  • The center block crosswalk on Bigelow Boulevard is designed to be safer for pedestrians (Photos by Mike Drazdzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Concrete planters in the center of the roadway will force pedestrians to use the crosswalk.
  • The redone block of Bigelow Boulevard also includes new bike pathways.