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Construction Projects Paused by the Pandemic Resume with New Timelines

August 05, 2020

The Drexel Academic Tower and  Powel Elementary/Science Leadership Academy Middle School photographed on Aug. 3. Photo courtesy Wexford and Turner Construction.
The Drexel Academic Tower site and Powel Elementary/Science Leadership Academy Middle School photographed on Aug. 3. Photo courtesy Wexford and Turner Construction.

Several of Drexel University’s strategically important construction projects that were initially halted when Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home orders went into effect in March have since resumed activity, after the orders were lifted and Drexel’s Real Estate and Facilities staff directed building contractors to establish pandemic safety protocols for construction site workers.

“Each of them responded with a site-specific safety plan and protocol that included social distancing, handwash stations, temperature checks and additional assessments of their workers’ health when they enter the work site,” said Vice President of Real Estate and Facilities Donald E. Moore. “All of that was quickly implemented, and I feel that each contractor has been very responsible and responsive in doing so. For us, reactivating the construction projects is critically important because it also reactivates jobs and workers earning a living, while also ensuring the facilities are delivered timely to meet the needs of their future occupants.”

Drexel has several current projects in the works — some of which will be completed when the University opens again, and others that will be completed on a delayed deadline.

Some more high-profile projects are being developed and funded by third-party developers under long-term land leases with the University, doing so in strategic collaboration with Drexel’s Real Estate and Facilities organization. On the University City Campus, that includes Schuylkill Yards via master developer and partner Brandywine Realty Trust; the Arlen Specter US Squash Center by way of US Squash; the Powel Elementary/Science Leadership Academy Middle School to be owned by Drexel and leased to the School District of Philadelphia, yet funded in part by the generosity of public and private donations; and the Drexel Academic Tower being constructed on 36th and Filbert streets, with Wexford Science & Technology as the master developer and building owner. Outside of Philadelphia, the Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health is being built in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, as the result of a partnership between Tower Health and Equus Capital Partners.

Both Drexel and the developers funding these projects are eager to complete them and begin reaping the long-term community benefits and academic synergies they represent. Some of the projects relate to the health sciences: the Drexel Academic Tower, which will house both the College of Nursing & Health Professions and the College of Medicine, as well as the College of Medicine’s West Reading location.

“These projects individually will help to advance the mission and vision of the institution,” said Moore. “Although we’re going through this pandemic, we have to also look to the future. And knowing that the future is going to be uncertain and different than what it is today, we know that we’ll need these facilities to really undergird the Drexel vision. That’s the way I see it. Each of these projects has its own part to play in fulfilling the institutional mission.”

Below are details and a status update on these third-party construction projects:

Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health:

In late May, a “topping off” ceremony was held with officials from Drexel and Tower Health to celebrate the placement of the final, 30-foot steel beam at the additional site location of the College of Medicine in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. Tower Health partnered with Equus Capital Partners to build the 150,000-square-foot building, which is located 0.6 miles from Tower Health’s Reading Hospital. Construction has already begun on the core and shell and construction documents for the fit-out of educational spaces have been completed. 

Tower Health Topping Off Ceremony
Tower Health and Drexel University celebrated an official "Topping Off" ceremony for Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health, an additional site location of the medical school to be opened in Wyomissing, PA.

Barring any unanticipated disruptions, the new facility is still on track to welcome an initial cohort of 40 College of Medicine students in the 2021–2022 academic year. When fully operational, the campus will have capacity to educate and train 200 medical students.

Ground was broken on this project in June 2019. Plans for the site were announced in April of 2018.

Powel Elementary/Science Leadership Academy Middle School: 

Construction of new K-8 classrooms on the site of the former University City High School at 36th and Filbert streets — which is also the parcel that will house the Academic Tower described below — fell slightly behind schedule during the shutdown, Moore said. The master developer Wexford Science & Technology is working toward a timely opening for the new 87,000-square-foot, two-story building. When complete, it will house students currently attending the Samuel Powel Elementary School at 36th Street and Powelton Avenue and the Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLA-MS), which is now temporarily operating at 3600 Market St.

The Powel Elementary/Science Leadership Academy Middle School site in late June. Photo courtesy Quatrefoil Consulting, LLC.

The school is now expected to be completed in time for a spring 2021 occupancy, but recovery schedules are being re-evaluated for the move-in timeframe. Ground was broken on the project in December 2019, and planning for it dates back to 2012, as previously reported by DrexelNow.

When completed, Powel/SLA-MS will be owned by Drexel and leased to the School District of Philadelphia through a long-term lease; the school district will handle both the operation and maintenance of the building and grounds. Drexel secured private and public funding for the project, including generous contributions from the Lenfest Foundation; PECO; and Ventas, a leading real estate investment trust who is financing much of the work on the other uCity Square sites, as well as New Market Tax Credits, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Drexel Academic Tower at University City High School Site:

Wexford Science & Technology, at its own cost, is also developing an academic building with about 450,000 rentable square footage to be located at the same “uCity Square” site that will also house Powel/SLA-MS.

The Drexel Academic Tower site. Photo courtesy Wexford and Turner Construction.

This new building will be the home of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, with initial occupancy by academic year 2022–23. In 2023, the College of Medicine administrative functions, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies, and the first- and second-year medical program will also be housed there after vacating leased space in Center City and on the Queen Lane Campus.

Prior to the stay-at-home order, construction of what is called the Drexel Academic Tower was expected to begin during spring 2020, with a substantial completion delivery of mid-2022. Construction of this facility began in late July 2020, endeavoring to maintain the same completion date.

Arlen Specter US Squash Center (US Squash):

Construction is in progress to convert the Armory at 3205 Lancaster Avenue into a national center for US Squash. Prior to the stay-at-home order, construction was planned to be substantially complete in early fall 2020 to host the US Open Squash Tournament. This target has since been reassessed, and the project is now on pace to be completed by the end of this year.   US Squash began construction of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center in the spring of 2019.

Schuylkill Yards 

Brandywine Realty Trust, in partnership with Drexel, is continuing to build out the master-planned Schuylkill Yards development in University City, including renovations of the former Bulletin Building, now known as 3025 Market Street. Installation of the new east-facing façade is complete, Spark Therapeutics has moved into the building and is conducting research as a tenant, and spaces are being prepared for ground floor retail and food service amenities. This work, coupled with the removal and construction of a new head house by SEPTA that began earlier this year, will make up the Schuylkill Yards Gateway.

The  interior of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center site in late June. Photo courtesy Michael W. Thompson.

Brandywine has also completed the construction design documents and is seeking construction permitting for one new tower on JFK Boulevard, and it has completed design development documents for another. Construction is expected to begin this fall on the 500,000-square-foot West tower, which will consist of mainly residential units with office and retail space on the lower floors. The 750,000-square-foot East tower, which will consist of a mix of large corporate offices, retail space on the ground floor and, possibly, laboratories, will be constructed after the completion of the West tower, pending the closing of a large corporate tenant. Brandywine is planning for and is in the early design stage for a new stand-alone research lab building, with this project likely preceding the start of the East tower. The West tower will take approximately 30 months to complete.