On Sept. 30, President John A. Fry hosted the dedication ceremony of the Raymond G. Perelman Plaza. Fry thanked Perelman for his $5 million donation towards the plaza’s construction and envisioned a future in which the plaza serves as the hub of Drexel’s campus life.
Perelman Plaza is the latest in a series of projects to have emerged from Drexel’s 2012 Campus Master Plan. The administration redesigned the space between Disque Hall and the Main Building because the previous configuration, titled the 32nd Street Pedestrian Mall by its architect, could not accommodate the increasing foot traffic on campus. Fry elaborated on how the Perelman Plaza design facilitates pedestrian travel. “The pedestrian log jams that have been a part of this thoroughfare in every previous configuration … are all gone,” he said. By removing the grass quadrangles that once populated the walkway, the Perelman Plaza architects created a new space on campus that can accommodate a large outdoor event.
The architects also focused on developing the ecology of the area. By Thanksgiving, the completed plaza will feature 65 native plant and tree species across 24,000 square feet of green space. The green space coupled with the porous paving of the plaza will make up a rainwater management system that is expected to keep 700,000 gallons of storm water out of Philadelphia’s sewage system — with the old design, the University would be slated to pay $4329.96 in storm water fees per year for the mostly impervious area. James Cirelli, president of the Drexel Sierra Student Coalition, explained that large cities like Philadelphia suffer from issues related to storm water runoff, such as pollution of surrounding bodies of water. “The new design here at the Perelman Plaza is a great example of Drexel’s continued commitment to sustainability,” he said.
Of the plaza’s many features, Fry emphasized its potential to foster a spirit of community within the Drexel public. Fry took the audience back to the 1930s, when Drexel students had no better place to gather than a room above a bar. In response, the University’s administration intervened to provide students with a place of their own; the result was the formation of Drexel’s first Student Union. “The moral of this story,” Fry explained, “is that a community needs common space to grow and flourish.” The vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, Kevin Murray, shared Fry’s vision of students and faculty developing a sense of community in the new plaza. “Perelman Plaza is the latest development on this campus that will inspire thought in our students, community on our campus and spirit in the Drexel name,” he said.
Students and faculty who attended the ceremony and the reception that followed had mixed opinions of the new plaza. Many questioned why the Drexel administration continued to rework the same space and disturb campus life with ongoing construction projects. Even though Fry dubbed the Perelman Plaza “the most important community space that Drexel has ever had,” several students and faculty stated their preference for The Quad.
Overall, however, most students and faculty members expressed their faith in the Drexel administration and hoped the disturbances would eventually prove worthwhile. “For any dynamic institution, change is always a part of the equation,” Janson Jacob, a senior in the accelerated undergraduate-medical degree program, said. “But whatever they’ve got to do to find the right formula, I support them,” he continued. Till then, the new plaza will be the latest construction project in a long line of others over the coming years.