Pitt’s buildings stack up as ‘old, large and dense’ against peers

Chart showing Pitt building size compared to peer institutions


It probably comes as no shock that Pitt’s academic and administrative buildings, when compared to peer institutions, are among the largest and most densely populated — the 42-story Cathedral of Learning and 744,695-square-foot Posvar Hall certainly contribute to this.

At the Nov. 16 Plant Utilization and Planning committee meeting, David DeJong, acting senior vice chancellor for Business & Operations, detailed how Pitt’s real estate stacked up in a report done by Sightlines, which compiles extensive information on higher ed campus facilities. The report only included education and general facilities, and not auxiliary buildings, such as residence halls.

The peer institutions that were used in the benchmarking were all large, research universities in urban settings — such as Boston University, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Case Western — and most were in the Northeast. There also were comparisons done with similar universities that are in the Top 25 in the U.S. News list.

Overall, Pitt ranked first in building size, well above the average for both comparison groups, and fourth in density. DeJong said the large size means many building renovations have to be done in stages, and the density means there isn’t much swing space in which to move people when renovations are needed. The Cathedral of Learning, where the multi-year renovation work has been done in several stages, is a prime example.

DeJong highlighted one slide from the Sightlines report that showed the peaks and valleys of when Pitt’s buildings were built or substantially renovated from 1880 to now, and compared that to the average of the same data for all the 450 schools in Sightlines’ database.

Chart showing building peaks on campus

In 1910, there’s a construction peak that includes O’Hara Student Center, Gardner Steel and Alumni Hall. The 1920 bump brought Eberly Hall, Thackery Hall, the Eureka Building and Bellefield Hall. And the big jump is 1940 is the Cathedral of Learning, Heinz Chapel and the Stephen Foster Memorial.

Pitt’s construction peaked again around 1980 with the addition of the Hillman Library, David Lawrence Hall, Crawford Hall, and then toward the end of that period Posvar and Mervis Halls. Up until then, Pitt was keeping pace with other institutions, but since that boom, construction at Pitt has been fallen behind its peers.

“What you see relative to the other institutions in the database is that they’ve been doing relatively more investment than we have over the last 30 plus years,” DeJong said, which translates into Pitt having a larger than average share of older buildings. Nearly 50 percent of Pitt’s buildings are 50 years or older, compared to 30 percent for peer institutions.

Chart showing age of campus buildings compared to peer institutions

Pitt started in 2012 with about a 30 percent deficit on asset reinvestment, which is “deferred maintenance needs expenditures that are needed to catch up and get back to where we want to be from a perspective of building condition,” when compared to the average among its peers, DeJong said. Since then, Pitt has been spending substantially more, but still remains at about a 25 percent deficit.

The Facilities Management team took the information from Sightlines and aligned it with the  buildings that are the most “mission critical” and in need of renovation. Crawford Hall, which houses the Biology department, is at the top of the list. DeJong said “that’s a project that has not started but it is high on our list to get after, and we will do that as soon as we can.”

Other buildings, like the Learning Research and Development Center, are in poor repair, but are not mission critical. LRDC is slated to be demolished, along with the O’Hara Garage, to make way for a new rec center.

In summary, DeJong said, “Our buildings are old, large and dense, but we are working to reduce the conditions gap that we’ve got relative to our benchmarking peers. And that work continues. We’re reshuffling our 10-year capital plan right now. We will continue to make improvements, and I look forward to sharing all those efforts as we as we move forward.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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