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July 21, 2016

Restacking the Cathedral of Learning

cathedral copyIt takes no time for the sounds of construction to replace the sounds of students on campus during the blink of an eye before they return in August. Across campus, indoors and out, crews have sprung into action to renovate and improve Pitt facilities.

This summer in the Cathedral of Learning, several pivotal projects are underway as part of a multi-year “restacking” that will modernize offices, ease the strain on departments that have outgrown their space, and connect floors that have not yet tapped in to the building’s chilled water system.

Restacking will bring more than cool air and new furnishings. The larger goal is to bring about a smarter arrangement of the Cathedral’s many departments and offices, defragmenting where possible and clustering similar departments near one another.

The moves, which are expected to continue into 2020, are a prominent component of the University’s facilities plan, said David DeJong, executive vice provost.

“When we’re done we will have co-located the Center for History and Philosophy of Science, the Department of Philosophy and Department of History and Philosophy of Science onto contiguous floors,” he said. The University Honors College will be expanded, “and every humanities department will have redesigned, refurbished space and will be situated intelligently.”

It’s hoped that proximity will foster interactions among faculty — “sharing ideas just from bumping into people,” DeJong said. The changes also are expected to improve connections among graduate students.


Among the aims is to reunite Dietrich Schools of Arts and Sciences humanities programs in the Cathedral of Learning and optimize their co-location, DeJong said.

“There have been terrible space constraints on campus, manifested over the years by need-based, rather than optimal locations,” he said.

Perhaps the oddest example: The Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures had been housed in Old Engineering Hall amid physics and astronomy offices. In December the department was moved to former Department of Statistics space on the Cathedral’s 27th floor, making room in Old Engineering Hall for new physics labs, DeJong said. Statistics now is in Posvar Hall, where it has more synergies with social sciences, including economics, political science and sociology, he noted.


The catalyst that sparked the chain reaction was the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA)/Economics Library’s departure from the main floor of Posvar Hall.

DeJong, who was chair of economics when Provost Patricia E. Beeson named him vice provost for academic planning and resources management in 2010, said the opportunity to begin remedying the disconnections was revealed early in his tenure as vice provost.
In talks with deans and directors, he found that GSPIA was in need of more space, and that the University Library System was interested in moving the GSPIA/Economics Library collection to Hillman Library and ULS’s Thomas Boulevard storage facility.
Meanwhile, back at the Cathedral, the provost’s initiative to convert part-time faculty positions to full-time positions created the need for faculty office space. “One place where that was being done in earnest was in English,” housed on the 5th and 6th floors, DeJong said. “They needed to expand.”

English is among the Dietrich school’s largest departments, and the lack of sufficient office space was a longstanding problem, said Dietrich school operations manager Jeremiah McKain. “They grew faster than their space did.”
After the GSPIA/Economics Library closed in 2011, the College of General Studies (CGS) was moved from the Cathedral’s 4th floor into part of the vacated space in Posvar, freeing room in the Cathedral for those extra English faculty offices and providing room for the cultural studies, film studies and gender, sexuality and women’s studies programs to be clustered in the former McCarl Center space.

The Dietrich school’s IT and advancement staff now also occupy space on the Cathedral’s 4th floor.

The new CGS suite was unveiled two years ago. The location has multiple advantages, DeJong said. The more visible and accessible suite is close to parking and classrooms and more convenient for the nontraditional students, veterans and OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute participants CGS serves.


The Cathedral’s 12th and 37th floors currently are closed for construction.

The Nationality Rooms and University Senate offices, formerly on 12, are in temporary homes on floor 14.

Nationality Rooms staff will return to remodeled space on 12 in the fall, said Kristen Gusten, senior director of administration in the Office of the Provost; the Senate office eventually will have a new home on 3. The Braun Room, a meeting space that was the Dean of Women’s Office till 1969, will remain untouched, she said.

After some debate over where they would land, Heinz Chapel staff, who had office space in 1212 CL, have ended up in a logical place: the chapel itself.

Several off-campus locations were considered then rejected; Alumni Hall was a possibility, until it wasn’t. Finally it was determined the staff could use space on the lower level of the chapel, said chapel director Pat Gibbons, who now occupies the former University organist’s office.

Nearby, a portrait of benefactor H.J. Heinz and images of the chapel’s architect and window designer watch over the entrance to the freshly painted and carpeted staff offices that nestle amid ductwork in what once was storage space.

The chapel staff’s move in late April was followed by several misadventures: a phone glitch prevented brides-to-be from getting through to reserve wedding dates; a water heater broke and flooded the lower level floor; gutters overflowed and leaked water inside.

“What started out as a disaster has turned out very well,” said Gibbons. “It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to us.”
Previously there often was only one staff member in the chapel — a situation that was raising concern since the new climate control system requires the chapel doors to be kept closed, Gibbons said. Now at least three chapel staff are in the building at all times. In addition to being together, they’re also close at hand when they need to interact with maintenance staff or repair contractors.

“The whole staff think it’s easier,” she said.


The University Honors College (UHC) will expand upward onto 37, adding new offices and a conference/training room. The move will enable UHC staff to come together on contiguous floors. While nearly all honors college offices are on floors 35 and 36, international scholarship staff were on the Cathedral’s 12th floor and its health professions advisers currently are in Crawford Hall, said Gusten.

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO)’s General Accounting staff vacated floor 37 so that outdated elevator motors could be lowered from the 38th floor as part of the building’s elevator renovations. (See Feb. 5, 2015, University Times.) They’ve been in temporary space in Bellefield Hall, but eventually they’ll return to the Cathedral. “Bringing them back closer to the people they work with will be helpful,” said controller Thurman Wingrove, who is coordinating the CFO staff moves.

Plans call for General Accounting and the CFO’s Institutional Research (IR) office (now on 19) to occupy floor 17, currently home to the Office of General Counsel, Wingrove said.

IR’s move will provide some much-needed elbow room for Financial Information Systems, he said, noting that FIS is in need of a staging area for storing and configuring new PCs.


The CFO moves have hinged on the overdue departure of the Office of Finance from the 24th and 25th floor. Chief investment officer and treasurer Amy Marsh and her staff had been set to move to the newly constructed Schenley Place office building on the corner of Bigelow Boulevard and Ruskin Avenue in December (see Oct. 1, 2015 University Times) but their relocation was delayed until earlier this month.

That clears the way for the Office of General Counsel to move from the 17th floor, but renovation plans for the new space on floors 24 and 25 still are on the drawing board. Geovette Washington, senior vice chancellor and chief legal officer, said her new space is being designed to eliminate the segmentation she says is problematic in their current location. “The spaces are not built for collaboration. We need places for people to talk, to share ideas and be on the same page,” she said.


Completion of the 12th floor will allow the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures to move down from 14. The 12th floor also will include shared support space for humanities areas, said Pat Cunningham, the Dietrich school’s executive director of financial/physical resources. That will include graduate student offices, administrative and meeting space, he said.

“Relocating Slavic languages and literatures is the domino to clear the floor and renovate 14,” Cunningham said. That space will be updated for the communication department, which will move from the 11th and 13th floors. That construction is expected to start over the winter break and finish at the end of the spring term, Dietrich operations manager McKain said.

The German department already has moved from 14 into new space on the 15th floor, near the classics department’s new suite.
Hispanic languages and literatures and French and Italian languages and literatures will remain on the 13th floor, but will undergo phased renovations, Cunningham said.


Another part of the plan will bring philosophy areas together on two contiguous floors. “We’re excited for creating a real home for the philosophies,” said Cunningham, adding that discussions have begun with leaders in those areas.

The Department of History and Philosophy of Science, the Center for Philosophy of Science and Department of Philosophy currently are spread out across parts of eight different floors, McKain said.


The Rubik’s Cube of a project is complicated due to the many contingencies and the fact that most of the work must be concentrated in summer so that departments can function during the academic year.

Despite the disruptions, the work is being well received for the most part. “It’s not hard to get partners engaged in renovating 30-year-old space,” McKain said.
—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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