Some long-awaited Pitt construction projects coming to fruition


The pandemic has slowed some Pitt construction projects, but some long-awaited renovations and new buildings are starting to take shape.

Just last week, Pitt and Wexford Science & Technology unveiled The Assembly, a biomedical research facility in a Bloomfield building that once served as a one-stop-shop for Ford’s Model T cars, which were assembled and displayed in the same building.

The project was first announced in 2018 as a partnership between Pitt and UPMC. Pitt purchased the building from UPMC for $25 million in 2018. Construction began in 2019, but was halted in March 2020 because of the pandemic. Work was allowed to continue a month later with a special exemption from the state.

The eight-story building at 5051 Centre Ave. was originally slated to open in fall 2021 after a $330 million refurbishment.

The Assembly building atriumThe Assembly will be anchored by leading scientists in cancer research and immunology, including several Pitt investigators from the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Department of Immunology, and Institute for Precision Medicine.

“We are excited to see this new facility come to life as a space for bold, innovative biomedical research, education and training. It represents another milestone in the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC’s commitment to advance new treatments and cures while contributing significantly to the region’s expanding biotech sector,” Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences, said at the May 5 ribbon cutting ceremony.

The building has a 250+ seat auditorium on the ground floor, as well as a large atrium. Pitt is leasing approximately 245,000 square feet of The Assembly, leaving about 110,000 square feet available for lease by other tenants.

Alan Magee Scaife Hall addition

Scaife Hall additionThe new 110,000-square-foot west wing of Scaife Hall is scheduled to open in July, said David DeJong, senior vice chancellor for business and operation.

“It’s going to be transformative for the student experience there,” DeJong said.

The $129 million project, which also includes 47,000 square feet of renovations, began in 2019 and was slightly delayed in early 2020, but DeJong said it’s now “on time and on budget.”

The new west wing includes a renovated Falk Library of the Health Sciences with an entrance on Lothrop Street; a 600-person auditorium; a gross anatomy lab that combines the benefits of traditional cadaveric dissection with a facility for augmented/virtual reality; multipurpose spaces and open areas for study, group work or small conversations; a café offering indoor and outdoor seating; private study spaces and more.

A second phase of construction on Scaife Hall was approved last July by the Board of Trustees Property and Facilities Committee and is expected to start this July. The $30 million project will include work on approximately 47,400 square feet on four floors on the west side of the existing building to upgrade teaching and student spaces.

Modern lecture halls, laboratories and group study spaces will be constructed to support team-based learning and student interaction. The existing classrooms will be reoriented to serve as a hub for the six schools of the Health Sciences.

Arena and Sports Performance Center

The Victory Heights project for Pitt Athletics, which involved multiple buildings, was announced with a splash in January 2020. DeJong said the pandemic definitely delayed that initiative but it’s getting back on track now.

The Arena and Sports Performance Center, planned for the bowl next to Petersen Events Center, is “well down the road of design,” he said. “A really exciting design that will blend in really nicely to the hillside there, to that bowl interface, and in a really coherent way with the Petersen Event Center.”

The plan announced in January 2020 included $250 million in new facilities for many of the non-revenue sports. DeJong said “the broad vision for the set of things that we want to accommodate under the Victory Heights project are still all on the table.”

Chilled water plant

Foundation of chilled water plant next to Pitt Sports DomeThe new Chilled Water Distribution plant on upper campus, next to the Pitt Sports Dome, is under construction now and is slated for completion in December 2023.

“When that thing is done, it’s mostly going to be underground,” DeJong said. “But it’s a critical project because it’s enabling us to be able to expand and facilitate Victory Heights and the (new) rec center and all that. But it’s also tying into the other chilled water plants on campus. So we’re building in a redundancy and resiliency system, which is really important.”

The chiller plant also is an example of Pitt’s efforts to diversify participation of women- and minority-owned firms in professional services and construction projects. DeJong said more than 30 percent of the companies hired on this project are women or minority owned. Facilities Management has a page on its website detailing all the diversity initiatives.

Hillside projects

Work on hillside above where LRDC wasThe upper campus hillside area has been undergoing a major transformation for more than a year and much work remains. The new Recreation and Wellness Center, which was outlined at meetings last month, is the ultimate goal of much of the work.

The new center and more user-friendly landscaping “are part of a combination of things that are going to make that hillside really activated,” DeJong said.

“When all the dust is settled, we really want that to be a destination and not an obstacle,” he said. “The vision that Beth McGrew (vice chancellor for planning, design and real estate) has put forward for that is really inspiring. It will add to the outdoor green space that our students can use for experiencing the campus.”

Enabling work is still going on right now, including lines that will connect the new chilled water plant to the rest of campus. The Campus Recreation and Wellness Center is targeted to open in fall 2024.

Regional campuses

New Greensburg buildingMajor projects on the Greensburg and Bradford campuses are moving along quickly.

“Each one of them is part of a broader effort to get more STEM activities on those campuses, in part to help support the need for a really well-prepared workforce in Western Pennsylvania — to attract and retain,” DeJong said.

On the Greensburg campus, the shell of the new two-story Life Sciences Building, which will connect to Smith Hall, went up quickly over the 2021-22 school year. It will allow for a significant expansion of the nursing program and other sciences. It is expected to be open for classes in January 2023..

In Bradford, concrete was poured last week for the base of the new George B. Duke Engineering and Information Technologies Building, which will be home to two new programs — mechanical engineering technology and energy engineering technology, as well as energy science and technology, computer information systems and technology and information systems. It also should be completed late this year.

“The introduction of an engineering technology program is huge for that campus and for that area,” DeJong said.

UPMC bed tower

While not a Pitt project, the new UPMC hospital that will be built along Fifth Avenue in front of UPMC Presbyterian Hospital is very much on DeJong’s radar.

“We’re working very closely with them right now to coordinate that,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of activity on and planned for the hillside, and we’ve been extremely careful to make sure that it’s safe, that our students who are walking around the site are supported and the site is well contained.”

He said there are plans for a single point of entry in and out of the UPMC construction site.

“We’re working with the Hill District to make sure that’s not going to be disruptive to them,” he said. “We’re working to minimize the impact on campus of all that in and out traffic that’s going to happen.”

Other projects

Hillman Library: Phase three, which includes the first and second floors of the library, is expected to be completed this fall — probably October, DeJong said. These floors will contain an expanded and relocated Open Lab; a large, open study area with movable furniture; a significantly expanded indoor/outdoor café; and an accessible ramp entrance on the Forbes Avenue side of the building. This will leave only the ground floor to still be renovated. DeJong said he wasn’t sure when work would begin there.

Notable “smaller spaces” that Facilities Management is working on this summer, according to Scott Bernotas, vice chancellor for facilities management, are:

  • Renovate space for School of Computing & Information

  • Waterproofing membrane under the Cathedral of Learning entry plaza

  • Renovate restroom in Thackeray Hall

  • Renovate fourth floor of Thaw Hall 

  • Construct ADA entrance ramp at Alumni Hall

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


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.