I got a call recently from a freelance reporter writing for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who had heard that IUP had "done some major construction."
Talk about an understatement.
"Yes, we've just finished a $243-million project to renovate or replace all of our university-owned residence halls, the Residential Revival. It's the largest project of its kind in the nation, ..." and on I go.
It's been such a major presence for this university and our communications work (four groundbreakings, four ribbon cuttings, two "demolition teas," a front-page feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education, of which I am particular proud) that I tend to into PR-autobot mode when talking about Residential Revival.
He listened politely, and then asked me something that most reporters don't generally even think to consider. "Yes, I know of the project. I wondered whom I could talk to about how all your construction fits into campus planning efforts."
That switched OFF my auto-reponse. "I have the perfect person," I assured him. "Mr. Tom Borellis, he's currently the assistant to the vice president for Administration and Finance for Special Projects. He's THE MAN when it comes to campus planning."
IUP's Residential Revival is a very visual demonstration of IUP's commitment to a new way of living and learning on campus. The new buildings are beautiful, and students and parents are loving them. But most people, probably even most people on campus, don't understand the back story as to how they fit into the long-range campus plan.
Tom does. He was the director of Student Housing Development during the four phases of the construction of the eight buildings and is a key figure in IUP's long-range development plan, which looks at EVERYTHING physical plant related, from parking needs to pedestrian and vehicle patterns to signage.
Because he's worked with colleges and universities, he's a specialist in the field and "gets" that form has to follow function on the campus--that the academic strategic plan comes first, then the plans for new buildings. He also understands that as plans are developed, they have to be as a result of consensus, input, meetings, more meetings, discussions, and did I mention meetings?
He comes to IUP from GWSM, a nationally known landscape architecture and planning firm in Pittsburgh (he was president and chief operating officer), and I remember when Tom and his firm were consultants to IUP. Ed Receski, then vice president for administration, wisely realized that IUP needed Tom in this role full time, and he brought Tom to IUP in 2001 as the university landscape architect. Happily for IUP, he stayed, expanding his role to take on the Residential Revival.
I usually try to be present during media interviews, not because I am necessarily needed to provide information, but because I learn so much from the experts that I set up to talk with reporters. This was no exception. Two hours flew by (Tom is a very entertaining storyteller, by the way), and I learned a great deal about how the living-learning trend began in California (state of, not California, Pa.) and that IUP's long-range plan was the impetus for the entire State System of Higher Education to require long-range plans of all its member universities. Tom also talked about how these buildings, because of the public-private partnership, truly are outside-the-box thinking that made badly needed facilities possible during some very challenging economic times.
The reporter also asked about the future of IUP and its facilities. Tom brought out our recently approved long-range plan, which strategically details five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years into the future, promising a new Humanities and Social Sciences building and a new Natural Sciences and Mathematics building.
The story appeared recently in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, with the headline "IUP Ditches 'Dungeon' Dorms amid a Residential Revival." It tells the story of IUP's efforts to revitalize the campus quite nicely. And, I look for this reporter to be back, and to be calling on Tom and other IUP experts.
Talk about making IUP look good, now and into the future.