After two years of construction, more than 1.5 acres of limestone, and the demolition of the fondly remembered Matheson Hall, Drexel University celebrated the opening of Gerri C. LeBow Hall with a dedication Oct. 3 attended by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Drexel President John A. Fry, and a crowd of dignitaries and students.
The $92 million, 12-story building has already become a central anchor point of the University City campus, towering over the quad and dominating the Drexel skyline along Market Street. A new home for the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business, the building’s construction had interfered with student life in the center of campus since the demolition of Matheson Hall in the summer of 2011. The building is now the University’s largest academic building.
“The extrinsic value of this building is really yet to be determined,” interim LeBow Dean Frank Linnehan said. “We know it is going to return incredible value on this investment. The Gerri C. LeBow Hall represents everything that is good about Drexel. What better place than here at Drexel because Drexel is the best place to combine book smarts with street smarts.”
With limestone and pre-cast concrete and an aluminum frame around low-E glass as the building’s primary building materials, the hall reflects the emerging vocabulary of this generation of Drexel buildings, acknowledging the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building and the Chestnut Square development. Gone are the days of Drexel being defined by an orange-brick facade.
“Drexel understands innovation,” Corbett said to the crowd, echoing Fry’s assertion that the new building is the first to anchor a new “Innovation Neighborhood” of development in University City. “They understand that technology and business now are inseparable in everything that we do and that technology changes almost by the minute.”
“It’s exciting for me as governor,” Corbett continued, “to see a business school that recognizes and acts on the new conditions of the 21st century.”
Designed and built by Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York and Voith & MacTavish Architects of Philadelphia, the building takes its name from the late wife of financier and corporate executive Bennett S. LeBow, a 1960 graduate of Drexel with a degree in electrical engineering. LeBow has come to be the single largest benefactor to the University, with donations totaling $60 million. The LeBow Engineering Center and the business school bear his name. In 1998 Drexel awarded LeBow an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
“What a beautiful building. What can I say,” LeBow said during the ceremony. “Fifteen years ago, Drexel was a school in deep trouble and going absolutely nowhere,” he said. “Now, however, look around you. Thanks to [former Drexel President Constantine Papadakis’] original leadership and our new president, John Fry, Drexel is growing by leaps and bounds.”
“I have some news for [the University of Pennsylvania] and Wharton,” LeBow said, mentioning that four of his grandchildren were going to or had graduated from the university at the other end of Woodland Walk. “Look out, because here comes Drexel.”
“We think of gifts as coming often with no strings attached,” Fry said. “But you know that a legendary businessman like Ben was thinking about a return on his investment on a commitment this big. The fact that he believed Drexel and LeBow College to be worthy of that investment should be a source of great pride and great confidence to all of us. But it’s also a challenge to us to look for new horizons and to excel even more, and I am certain that we will rise to that occasion.”
In November 2010, Fry announced that LeBow had made a $45 million gift to the business school to create a new building. This gift, the single largest ever made to the University, became the keystone for plans to replace Matheson Hall, built in 1965.
“Drexel’s College of Business is one of the best investments I ever made,” LeBow said in a press release at the time. “In 10 short years, the school has vaulted into the rankings of national leaders among MBA and entrepreneurship programs and is recognized for the strong experiential learning opportunities it provides to undergraduates. I could not be happier with the return on investment from my initial gift.”
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania contributed a further $9.5 million for the construction, according to Fry in his remarks.
In conjunction with the opening of the new building, the University also announced the creation of a School of Economics within the LeBow College of Business to be led by Vibhas Madan, the school’s first director. In an email to students the morning of the dedication event, Fry also announced that Drexel’s undergraduate student body in economics had tripled in size over the past six years and that Drexel will offer a new master’s program through the school.
The new building, of which the first four floors have been open to students for class since the start of the fall term a few weeks ago, has a portrait of both Bennett and Gerri LeBow painted by Alexandra Tyng in the five-story atrium. The remainder of the building, as well as some office space, will be open by December, according to DrexelNow. The Starbucks currently located on the first floor of the adjacent Pearlstein Business Learning Center will move to a new location within the new building by the end of the fall term.
Other features of the building include a finance trading lab and Bloomberg Terminals. There is also a 300-seat auditorium, a 100-seat lecture hall and a large event space. Seventeen classrooms of various sizes and a faculty seminar area round out the academic space in the building.
The building is wired for teleconferences and videoconferences and contains a studio to support the college’s online programs. There is integrated technology in all classrooms, with special space reserved for learning simulations and business consulting.
Students will also benefit from 3,500 square feet of social space within the building. There are 12 student collaboration rooms and two quiet study areas.
“Great spaces also encourage great ideas,” Provost Mark Greenberg told the crowd. “Great spaces lift the spirit. Great spaces inspire. What’s the impact of a building like Gerri C. LeBow Hall? Its full story has yet to be written, but already I’ve seen its power in expressions of faculty and student pride whenever the building is mentioned.”
There will be space for alumni to congregate with an executive MBA Alumni Lounge that will be closed off to other disciplines. The building will also house the Laurence A. Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship with incubator space for new companies on the third floor.
“On behalf of the LeBow faculty and staff, I’d like to assure all of you that Gerri C. LeBow Hall is going to be about so much more than all of the steel and the limestone and the technology,” professor and head of the marketing department Trina Andras told students. “It’s going to be about collaboration that’s going to bring about innovation and new ideas.”
In keeping with a trend for recent large building projects on campus, the building is Green Globes certifiable and meets numerous sustainability certifications.
Despite all the new features, there is a very visible absence along Woodland Walk and in the quad, as the triangular fountain that was installed in 2006 and cooled summer days in the quad with 112 water jets has not been returned.
The demolition of Matheson Hall, although needed to make room for the new building, also elicited fond memories from the Drexel community, with the LeBow College setting up a microsite for the public to submit Matheson stories, including several married couples who first met in the now-demolished building.
“My wife and I met in Matheson Hall in the fall of 1984,” Michael Dvorak, M.B.A. 1986, posted on the site. “We were both taking COO2 (one of the statistics courses in the MBA program), and we both arrived late on the second night of class. The professor had switched the classroom, and there was no note on the door indicating where it was moved to. We wandered around the halls together trying to find the new classroom. When we finally found it, lo and behold, there were only two seats left, which just happened to be next to each other. The rest, they say, is history!”
Other posters understood the need for a new building in place of Matheson.
“Matheson served me well, but its dated look and feel seemed to take away from the high-tech feel of Drexel,” Pam Lipschutz posted. “And one of the more interesting things was the ladies’ room on the first floor where women routinely took naps!”
The dedication ceremony, with the white limestone sheathing of the building gleaming in the bright sun, also included a lunch reception sponsored by Starbucks.
A time capsule including a picture of Gerri LeBow given by Bennett LeBow and photographs from Thursday’s ceremony, along with other items which were not announced, was also to be buried at the site to replace a time capsule that had been opened during the demolition of Matheson Hall.
In a high point of the ceremony, David V. Hunt, a senior business student, gave an impassioned impression of the new building from a student’s point of view that impressed Corbett enough that he later referenced Hunt’s words in his own remarks.
“From the large auditoriums to the small collaboration rooms,” Hunt, whose mother and grandmother watched from the crowd, said, “from the ability to videoconference all around the world to peering through two-way mirrors in our behavioral studies lab, Gerri LeBow Hall provides us with the capabilities to reach unparalleled heights.”
“And for the students,” Hunt said, “the most important feature of this building may just be that there is space set aside to gather, to stop, to think, to share or just to vibe. Gerri LeBow Hall is already becoming a focal point for our entire campus community.”
“Mr. LeBow,” Hunt continued, turning to speak directly to the benefactor, “you invested in a lot more than ability. You invested in our aspirations, and we will absolutely stop at nothing to make you proud.”