The longest journey might begin with a single step, but students at Penn State’s University Park main campus had gotten used to a few of them as their bookstore moved to temporary accommodations during the 2-year renovation and expansion of the HUB-Robeson Center.
Speaking from his new store, a bright, architecturally contemporary building at the center of the newly completed project, Steve Falke, Director of Stores for Barnes & Noble College, recalls the journey. “At any stage of the renovation, I could just talk to my client, or the architects or construction teams, and we were all empowered to make decisions on the fly if need be,” he says, adding, “I honestly think there’s a level of trust on this campus, which really enabled us to get the project completed.”
While representing a logistical challenge to temporarily house those businesses that resided in the HUB Center; a credit union, bank and student ID office, together with the Penn State Bookstore; the recent renovations also required managing the diverse needs of the university, students, architects and construction teams.
It was a task that often fell to Penn State’s Associate Vice President for Finance and Business, Dan Sieminski. “As large as Penn State is, with as many touch points as there are, for a project on this scale, you need to be prepared for a lot of different diverse point of views being brought to the table,” he explains. “I think we knew going into it that our success was only going to come from a lot of interaction, a lot of collaboration, and to keep open and effective communications as we moved along,” he says.
The solution for the bookstore’s interim home was to move it to 20,000 square-feet of temporary trailer space, parked behind the HUB Center. It would result in a nearly two-year project, and be home for the store’s operations through two fall and spring book rushes. “We were able to downsize to concentrate on a core of gifts, clothing and textbooks — and the space was perfectly adequate for that,” Falke says.
Signage directed students to the trailers, while the bookstore ramped up its social media channels to keep students up to date on new events and service offerings. Although the store was able to operate business as usual, the migration wasn’t totally without incident. At one point, the store’s old book warehouse, which was located in the old basement of the renovated building, was compromised by water, and in the middle of last fall’s football season, the staff was forced to relocate the facility to a space on the other side of campus. “They were simply there for us,” Falke says of the university’s administration. “They just asked what we needed and they found us a secure, workable alternative. The University supported the bookstore mission at every turn.”
The campus bookstore moved back to its newly renovated home in January, coordinating with the construction teams to ensure a gradual, staged reopening — and the homecoming was worth the wait. The Penn State Bookstore now boasts a new technology center, expanded gift and card sections, and additional increased floor space for the clothing and gift departments.
The addition of a mezzanine level provides for an expanded general reading section, while also being home to a new 60-seat café. Yet, as the store gets ready for its next Rush and a new football season, even the impressive new facilities of the store might not be the most remarkable thing to come from the renovation project. “Our primary concern was always to ensure the bookstore is integrated into the energy and enthusiasm of the activities around it,” Dan Sieminski says.
That seems to be an approach the new store is already cultivating. People are using this store in a different way,” Falke points out. “Our new Clinique counter is already providing a popular draw for both staff and students, the café is becoming the kind of campus destination we really hadn’t seen before, and we’re also holding children’s reading programs with some local day-care facilities,” he says. “When customers see that kind of activity in the store — those kinds of community interactions — it just changes perceptions of what this store is all about.”