A groundbreaking delayed for four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic finally took place Wednesday afternoon at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for the John J. and Char Kopchick Hall, a $90 million, 142,536-square-foot home for IUP’s College of Natural Science and Mathematics.
“It is a beautiful day for a beautiful purpose,” IUP Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Timothy Moerland told those gathered in socially distant spaces in the university’s Oak Grove, as well as those listening online in a virtual connection to the event.
“It is an honor to have the name,” John Kopchick told reporters, “but that’s not the most important issue. The most important issue is the education that these kids are going to get. Hopefully there will be, and I know there will be, quality students, and hopefully some of them will go on to do great things and come back and have their names on the building.”
When it opens in the fall of 2023, Kopchick Hall will replace 55-year-old Carl S. Weyandt Hall, where the Kopchick College now is located and where John and Char Kopchick attended many classes.
“It became my home away from home because I not only received an excellent education, which parlayed me into what I am doing now, but we made some long-lasting friendships and mentorships that lasted across the years,” Char Kopchick said.
The groundbreaking came on a bittersweet day for Mrs. Kopchick.
“Today is the birthday of my mother and my godmother,” she told those gathered for the event.
John Kopchick also had a family connection to mention — his father was a laid-off coal miner who worked in Weyandt Hall as a receiving clerk.
“It has meant everything to me,” John Kopchick said. “Without the education I received here, down there in that building, Weyandt Hall, I wouldn’t be standing here giving this interview today.”
“As much as we love Weyandt Hall, and so many of our graduates and current students studied there and worked there, the facility has really come to the end of its lifetime,” said Kopchick College Dean Deanne Snavely. “So we are interested in having new laboratories where we can do teamwork, (and) students can work on projects where they can have a lot of impact into how the project works out.”
The new building will include more than 51,600 square feet of laboratory space, in 43 research lab modules, as well as nearly 10,000 square feet of collaboration space and 8,000 feet of formal teaching space.
“There is no doubt that Kopchick Hall will be the most advanced in its state-of-the-art status among the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) facilities in the State System universities with the best educational delivery and research capacity for these students,” said Sam Smith, chairman of IUP’s Council of Trustees and vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
“We’ve always had strong science programs and science education programs, which I think are equally important,” university President Dr. Michael Driscoll said. “But now we are going to be able to say, you’re going to work with world-class equipment, you’re going to be able to learn how to do things, you’re going to be able to expand the state of knowledge, even as an undergraduate in this facility, That will get us more great students coming here, absolutely, no doubt.”
Driscoll said, “in the main,” the pandemic did not affect planning for the new hall.
“Obviously a project involves many, many people and contractors and so on, so we may have had a little slowdown in getting everybody lined up, but I think we are on track and where we want to be,” Driscoll told reporters. “The design was well completed by the time we hit the pandemic, so it’s just a matter of working through all those contracting details with the (Pennsylvania) Department of General Services.”
“Our entire university community is excited that it is finally here,” IUP Vice President for University Advancement Khatmeh Osseiran-Hanna said to open the ceremony on the Oak Grove side of a building expected to take three years to complete.
“It is fitting that the new building will face the Oak Grove,” Osseiran-Hanna told those gathered for the groundbreaking, both on the university’s central lawn and by virtual connections. “That is a wonderful link, connecting our past and our present and our future. The Oak Grove is quintessential IUP. … It is the place all alumni remember and it is where they visit when they come back home.”
Approximately 65 faculty will be housed in the new hall, beginning in the summer of 2023.
Tim Cejka works with John Kopchick on the Imagine Unlimited National Campaign Cabinet, which helps with the university’s fundraiser.
“In the real world, things are multi-functional,” Cejka said. “The students are doing multi-functional research now, which is going to pay off when they get a job, to learn how to do teamwork, leadership, not just science … and the building is going to be inviting for non-science people to walk in. It is going to have windows where they can look into the labs and see where people are working, which I think is pretty cool.”
Cejka’s wife Debra Phillips Cejka also is on that 17-member cabinet, as is Char Kopchick, other major contributors to the campaign, and university officials including Driscoll, Osseiran-Hanna and Moerland.