As students settle in for the fall semester, Lehigh’s Clayton University Center remains under construction with structural and cosmetic changes expected to both the exterior and interior of the building.
Clayton UC will open softly in the spring of 2025 but will not officially open to the community until the fall of 2025 in order to provide enough time for dining services to adjust to the move.
The goal of the construction timeline is to complete the “building envelope” by this winter, said Jim LaRose, Lehigh’s lead project manager.
The majority of the exterior renovations are currently taking place on the south and west sides of the building. The roof shingles on the south side were replaced.
The building’s masonry, or stonework, is being restored under scaffolding, LaRose said. With the exterior construction completed, scaffolding will begin dismantling later this fall.
Exterior construction should be mostly complete by the start of the spring 2024 semester, and window installations will follow in February or March 2024, he said.
As for the utilities, LaRose said all the systems need to be replaced due to their age. Plumbing, sprinkler, gas and communications lines, as well as Linderman storm line connections, which prevent flooding, will be installed to better support the size of Clayton UC.
The interior of the building was about 98 percent demolished, and now that rebuilding has begun inside, the design drawings are coming to life, LaRose said. Using original designs and building information models, updated 3D drawings are created based on the actual space available after demolition.
Carpentry work on the interior renovation will begin on the fourth floor and work its way down, and LaRose said concrete gaskets for the living room pipes are currently being installed.
One of the main goals when designing the interior was to create a more open atmosphere, he said.
“The architects described it as porous,” LaRose said. “We want to make it more porous: more open and much easier to move around in the building.”
He said the building will be easier to navigate with more open space and signage, and interior storefront glass will be used in some student centers instead of traditional drywall, all to create a brighter, more welcoming environment.
Additionally, the Club Hub, a gathering place for student organizations, will have an exposed roof revealing the building’s mechanical systems.
A new staircase will be added connecting the second and third floors of the building and will be located on the south side of the building near the Trembley Drive entrance. Beyond practicality, LaRose said the staircase will be an “aesthetic” addition that will lead directly to the 100-person conference room on the third floor.
The large room across the hall on the east side of the third floor will house a bar, LaRose said.
Earlier this year, questions were raised about the bar when Lehigh was denied a liquor license, but Lehigh is confident they will get one by the end of the renovations, David Joseph said. Executive Director of Ancillary Services for Housing, Dining and Conference Services.
“We are continuing to work with Lehigh’s general counsel, outside legal counsel and the Pennsylvania Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to ensure we obtain a license,” Joseph said.
Construction caused the closure of Trembley Drive and Library Drive.
Maddie Bavaro, 26, said construction has disrupted her usual route to class. She can no longer pass through Central Campus as she used to, and now has to circle around campus to get to her classes at the bottom of the mountain, she said.
“Even though I’m not a big fan of construction, I understand why they had to do it,” Bavaro said. “I understand how old UCLA (Clayton) was, and I understand it will be a great thing in the future.”
LaRose said students should expect Library Drive to reopen soon after additional work is completed this fall.
The fencing that currently partially obscures the main lawn will be pulled down as construction continues and exterior renovations conclude later in the process, he said.
Although the building is adapting to a 21st-century feel, Rick Hall, vice president of student affairs, said preserving the building’s history is an important part of the renovation.
Instead of looking at UC Clayton as a dining facility, Hall hopes it will become the heart of the campus with more student engagement and activities where everyone feels connected and comfortable.
“Our past and history connect us to our present and our future,” Hall said. “So it was important to maintain that look for the Clayton University Center.”