Liam Rondon, a first-year mechanical engineering student at Drexel University, has already met a bunch of friends who live in the various residence halls on campus, but they always seem to want to come hang out in his dorm room at the newly renovated Bentley Hall.
“I don’t know if it’s because I decorated well, but everyone seems to really like Bentley from what I’ve gathered,” he said.
Although his clean, tidy, colored-LED-light-adorned dorm room may be a draw for Rondon’s classmates, there has also been positive feedback overall for the phase one renovations to Bentley Hall from residents who moved in at the start of this academic year.
Formerly Calhoun Hall, and before that Kling dorm, the building that is now Bentley Hall was built in 1972 and then closed following the 2014–15 academic year due to the need for upgrades. It was then announced earlier this year that a $5 million gift would reestablish the campus building under its new name, and that it was to become a new home and hub for the Pennoni Honors College and its students.
Before it was opened for move-in this year, the eight-floor, 211-room residence hall’s flooring, ceilings, lighting, HVAC system, furniture, and elevators were all updated, with the focus of the project being on creating more collaboration and student spaces. This is apparent on the ground floor, which boasts ample space for quiet study, as well as laundry facilities and an office suite for Honors College staff. Bathrooms on each floor were also gutted and rebuilt, and single-use, ADA-compliant, gender-neutral private bathrooms were added.
And where there is currently still fencing up and construction happening on the front right side of Bentley, there will soon be a two-story, 10,800 square foot addition which will include three seminar rooms as well as additional Pennoni office, study and social space.
“Everyone is impressed with the new design and features of the building and is excited about the new addition being built for the Pennoni Honors College, which will only further integrate academics into the residential design,” said Subir Sahu, PhD, senior vice president for student success. “In the past, as Calhoun Hall, the layout of the building always led to a strong residential community, as the semi-circle design allows you to engage and interact with those on your floor easily. The improvements in the hall allow for the physical space to mirror what we have seen from a social engagement standpoint.”
Gail Holmes, director of interiors for the Office of Planning, Design & Construction at the University, is quick to point out the brand new windows on both sides of the building on the ground floor of Bentley, as well as the improved flow through the space and the alternating “quiet” and “social” lounges that open up from the elevators on each floor.
“It’s an excellent structure that just needed renovation to remain relevant to the way students live and study today,” she said.
A total of 366 students moved into Bentley Hall at the start of the academic year, with 90 percent of them being first-year students. What Holmes mentioned is exactly what these student occupants admire most about their new home.
“I like our windows,” said Kendel Dawson, a first-year film student living in Bentley Hall. “I feel like we have a really good view sometimes. Our hallways are always really peaceful and the people on my floor are generally nice.”
“I am a huge advocate for Bentley Hall, because I think it’s amazing,” added Rondon. “The people are nice, there’s a great floor community, the staff is great and everyone is really friendly. I love the furniture. Everything is brand new, so who can complain about that?”
The anticipation of this grand reopening of the hall was acutely felt by upperclassmen in the honors program. Ethan Hermann, a second-year economics student and a resident assistant (RA) in Bentley Hall, said it was exciting and felt “cool” to be in the first wave of students to move into the renovated dorm after watching the progression of the renovations take place last year. He was also excited to see the $5 million gift from Greg S. Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems, and his wife Caroline put to good use for the honors program, which he is a part of as well.
“[It seems like it will] kind of bring a revival back to the [honors] program and put it in a central location on campus,” he said. “Bentley Hall is smack dab in the middle where everybody can see it.”
This front-and-center location is another benefit of living in Bentley, according to new residents. Hermann said it’s close to campus amenities like The Urban Eatery, the Handschumacher Dining Center, the Daskalakis Athletic Center and classroom buildings, as well as Philadelphia attractions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Zoo and the Schuylkill River Trail.
“I think it kind of triangulates you in terms of where you would want to go, both at Drexel and off campus,” he said.
In this side-by-side picture of the first floor of Bentley Hall before (right) and after (left) construction, it's easy to see the brand new windows on both sides of the building, as well as the improved flow through the space.
Emily Morlock, a third-year honors mechanical engineering student and Bentley RA, agreed that she “couldn’t imagine a better location” to live on campus. She added that as someone who spends a lot of time with fellow honors students and Pennoni Honors College staff, everyone is excited for the completion of Bentley Hall’s renovations to centralize the College and its services.
“Although Millennium Hall was the honors learning community, there were people scattered everywhere, in all the residence halls,” she said. “This feels like now it’s becoming a hub for it.”
For now, Bentley Hall is home to over 130 students not in the honors program, like Dawson and Rondon, who both agree that there is a very inclusive vibe despite this plan for the building.
“Even though I’m not an honors student, I feel like I can blend in with everybody, like a big family,” Dawson said.
Sahu hopes that students, faculty and staff see this project — with the forthcoming unveiling of its phase two upgrades and the new addition — as a sign of the University’s commitment to the on-campus living experience at Drexel.
“In so many ways, the experiences of living on-campus lay the foundations for your entire Drexel journey,” he said.