Ambitious master plan for Oakland campus about more than just buildings


Pitt’s 30-year, comprehensive, master plan, which was revealed last week, has big ambitions.

“We’re not just trying to build buildings,” said Greg Scott, senior vice chancellor for Business and Operations. “It’s really to advance the mission of Pitt and take us reputationally to the next level.

“This is a very different process than Pitt’s ever gone through, and that was to develop a plan that’s in conjunction with the Pitt community and the Pittsburgh community,” Scott said. “And our feeling was that, if we did that, we’d develop a plan that was much stronger than us just doing it ourselves.”

Pitt officials have spent the past year getting input on and off campus, from more than 8,700 people at 40 listening sessions and other events.

And now that the draft plan has been finalized, there will be a series of meetings on Oct. 8 and 9 to get comments from all interested parties.

“We’re feeling good about the process we went through to develop (the plan),” Scott said. “And I think we’ve been successful, but time will tell over the next couple weeks as we get feedback from the community.”

Some of the general goals of the multi-year plan include:

  • Creating a student-centered corridor from the Bouquet Gardens apartment buildings to new housing on the upper campus. The upper, middle and lower campuses would be connected by a multi-story recreation center where the O’Hara parking garage is now. The recently renovated Schenley Quad figures into this part of the plan.

  • Establishing a tech-science-medical corridor along O’Hara Street from a new building complex at One Bigelow, behind the former Pittsburgh Athletic Association, to a redone Crabtree Hall behind the Graduate School of Public Health. A walkway would link the Swanson School of Engineering, Crabtree Hall, and the newly announced UPMC Heart and Transplant Hospital in front of UPMC Presbyterian.
  • An Integrated Health Sciences complex, where Lothrop Hall now stands, that would house Nursing, Dental Medicine and lab facilities for all of Health Sciences and also would connect to the new UPMC hospital.
  • An athletics-oriented neighborhood, Victory Heights, on the space above Petersen Events Center on the upper campus.
  • Projects to create a distinctive urban, campus-like feel. For instance, areas along Bigelow Boulevard near the Cathedral of Learning and the William Pitt Union would be re-landscaped to support sustainability and to prevent jaywalking, and a mid-block crosswalk would be added. On O’Hara Street, the parallel parking would be removed, the sidewalks widened and more greenery added.
  • An Innovation District on and near Forbes Avenue, in which Pitt would encourage companies, professionals and amenities to come into Oakland and help transform it, particularly by putting businesses close to the research facilities. The master plan identifies sites that are the size to hold these companies. Some are properties Pitt owns, but not all. Scott said the master plan developers said, “Pitt is punching well below its weight on the opportunities to develop an innovation district.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the plan highlights.

Rec center for all

A new recreation center, where the O’Hara parking garage is now, is one of the top priorities of the plan. Scott said he envisions work starting on the center in the next three to four years.

It would have an entrance on O’Hara Street and on the upper side of the building. A new parking garage would be built behind the planned rec center first, then the O’Hara garage, which Scott said needs quite a bit of maintenance, would be torn down. The new multi-use facility would be open to students, faculty and staff.

“We have some true issues or deficiencies that have not been addressed in a long time, and rec is a perfect example,” Scott said. “There’s just not a facility on campus that’s really sufficient.

“We originally thought it would be up by the Petersen Events Center. I really thought at first that would be the ideal location, but we kept hearing mid-campus — people aren’t going to want to walk up the hill to get to it,” he said. “I think we ended up with a great solution … through this back and forth and pushing ourselves and really thinking hard about what it could be.”

The center also will create an avenue for vertical movement between the mid and upper campuses.

More and better housing

Scott said a recent housing study and market analysis found Pitt could fill 1,000 more beds in on-campus housing, in addition to the 8,000 it has now. Because the plan calls for the demolition of Forbes Hall, which has 500 beds, and Lothrop Hall, with 800 beds, more than 2,000 beds will need to be added to meet that number.

Other housing plans include:

  • Adding new buildings at Bouquet Gardens and making the current buildings more densely populated. This would add 1,000 beds to the 1,000 that are there currently. The Bouquet complex also would be made more urban and outward facing, with possible retail outlets on the first floors and a pedestrian walkway to connect Roberto Clemente Drive with Oakland Avenue.
  • Making Litchfield Towers less dense, by adding lounges and taking some rooms away, “to make it a better living experience for the students,” Scott said. Bathroom renovations, which were completed in one of the Towers last year, also will continue.
  • Eventually building North Campus housing with 500 beds.

New construction on Pitt-owned property

There are several other new buildings or additions, all on property currently owned by Pitt, in the plan.

Student Academic Success Center: This would be between Hillman Library and Lawrence Hall and would have space for clubs and other student-related activities, as well as some of the resources now found in the O’Hara Student Center.

One Bigelow: The parking lot behind The Oaklander Hotel, now under construction on Bigelow Boulevard, would be replaced by two buildings with a green space between and would eventually house the School of Computing and Information.

Posvar Hall addition: Scott said undergraduate Business Administration, which is mostly in Sennott Square now, could eventually move into an addition on the Bouquet Street side of Posvar.

O’Hara Street development: A new building dedicated to applied science and more space for engineering would replace the O’Hara Student Center and the Gardner Steel Conference Center.

Salk Hall annex: In addition to the renovations to historic Salk Hall, which were approved by the Board of Trustees last week, an annex behind the main building is included in the master plan.

Crabtree Hall redevelopment: A new taller building would become a “real connector between Health Sciences and Engineering,” Scott said, citing Pitt’s unique situation of having those two disciplines located so closely together and working jointly on so much bioengineering research.

Expanding and bringing together athletic facilities

The athletic complex would add two new facilities — an indoor track and the Human Performance Center, which will replace the Fitzgerald Field House and be located where the OC Parking Lot is currently.

Petersen Events Center could get a minor expansion near the lawn area, and the fitness center in the building would be replaced by the new nearby rec center, so that space would open up for other uses.

The lot where the field house is now could be used for a parking garage, housing or an academic building, Scott said.

And what about parking?

All these changes will definitely have an impact on parking, but Scott said, “Our goal is that we wouldn’t lose any parking …, but we may shift it to the peripheral of campus. … Everybody wouldn’t be directly beside every building.”

Pitt is talking to partners just on the edge of campus about collaborating on some parking facilities — what Scott calls “intercept garages” — from which people could be shuttled onto campus

The replacement for the O’Hara Street garage will have 600 spaces, up from 450 in the current building, and there would be some parking underneath the Human Performance Center, where the OC lot is now.

Scott said the city’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit system from downtown Pittsburgh to Oakland on Forbes Avenue and back on Fifth Avenue could help alleviate some traffic in Oakland.

What’s next?

“Now that we’re here and we have general buy-in … we can really start to lay out the plans and schedules,” Scott said.

The feedback meetings over the next month will help Pitt refine the plan, then the city must approve Pitt’s regularly submitted institutional master plan. After that, Pitt can identify the individual projects it wants to tackle first.

Scott said work would begin in the spring on the landscaping around Bigelow Boulevard. The new rec center and expanded housing at Bouquet Gardens are top priorities, along with the One Bigelow buildings, the athletic complex expansion and the Integrated Health Sciences facility.

Funding will come from a variety of sources, including fundraising, bonds for the debts, University reserves and the roughly $250 million set aside annually in the capital budget. The state also gives Pitt capital funds separate from the operating budget. For 2017-18, Pitt received $40 million from the state.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.