The Alvernia University and greater Reading community gathered for the public unveiling and ribbon cutting of the newly opened 125,000 square foot living and learning facility at 401 Penn Street in downtown Reading. The latest addition to the Alvernia campus is the university’s single largest facility and recently completed its first phase of retrofitting.
“Community partnership and collaboration has been the driving force in the early success of the Reading CollegeTowne initiative, which today officially has a true home here on Penn Street,” said Alvernia University President John R. Loyack. “It is candidly inspiring to see all our community organizations, elected officials and many others working hand in hand to spark experiential educational and economic activity that will transform lives for the residents of Reading. And, there is so much more to come.”
Those in attendance heard from several elected officials and received tours of the newly opened facility. The first phase of the retrofitting project was completed in under a year. After receiving the university’s largest grant in its 62-year history, a $4 million grant from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, Alvernia officially announced the groundbreaking in January 2021.
“Transformative development projects come to a city once in a generation—and that is what Alvernia University’s CollegeTowne means for the City of Reading,” said Pennsylvania State Senator Judy Schwank. “CollegeTowne brings a new vitality to Downtown Reading. It offers new opportunities for students to experience and energize urban life; and, the promise of unique community partnerships that benefit students, residents, and Greater Reading as a whole. I was proud to strongly support this game-changing endeavor.”
Part of the completed retrofitting included the ground floor redesign, which features a community gathering place and lounge area, space for the university’s refreshed business and communication programs and establish the home for the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship’s student-powered entrepreneurial lab, which currently helped over 100 local businesses and entrepreneurs over the past year.
The lower level renovations include a collaborative student gathering space, high-tech general-purpose classrooms, spaces for the university’s esports team and cutting-edge labs for the three new engineering programs. The fourth and fifth floors are retrofitted for student housing, with initial designs to house 66 students, with buildouts available to accommodate up to 300 students. There are 1,200 students, staff and faculty interacting with the facility daily.
“The students have already made this building and our community their home,” said Alvernia University Senior Vice President and Provost Glynis Fitzgerald.
“Our communication students can learn through conversations with faculty and our partners at BCTV and La Mega. Our business students are engaging with their faculty in these new technology-filled classrooms and interacting with the new tenants in our O’Pake Institute and the Community First Fund. With students, faculty and community members chatting, collaborating and studying in common spaces, this building is very much alive.”
As the new school year arrived, Alvernia business and communication students started taking classes in the building in late August, as did the students who made 401 Penn Street their new home.
“As a Reading native, this building represents great opportunities to both current and future students,” said Alvernia accounting student Margarita Cornejo-Jimenez ’22. “My fellow classmates will not only have the ability to experience Reading’s beautiful culture, with its diverse restaurants and stores, but they will also have the ability to meet and connect with other business owners and entrepreneurs from the area. We are proud to call this our new home, and on behalf of Alvernia’s student body, we thank all the supporters of this project who spoke today and the many more who continue their work behind the scenes for opening these doors that will lead us to success in our future careers.”
In July, the university announced Community First Fund, La Mega Radio and the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters joined BCTV and Starbucks as the first tenants of the 401 Penn Street location.
“With every visit to this hub for economic development, with every announcement of a new community engagement partner, and most importantly with every addition of a new experiential learning opportunity for our students, I always seem to return to the word ‘historic’ to describe this project,” said Alvernia University Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Fromm. “This is not just a building; this is catalyst for transformation. I think the future for the city is bright, and Alvernia is delighted to play a key role with Reading CollegeTowne.”
The university launched the CollegeTowne initiative in Reading in late 2019. Since its launch, Alvernia purchased a downtown location, completed the first phase of a $20 million renovation and retrofitting project and has spurred six other development projects in empty or abandoned buildings that is resulted in nearly 1,000,000 sq ft of transformation in the downtown corridor.