A New Chapter for English Department’s Home

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When Bennett Hall opened in 1925 to house women’s education at Penn, The Gazette commended the “artistic design” and noted its “well-lighted classrooms” and “large number of attractive offices,” among other amenities.

Today the building might be better described by its limitations: Poor insulation from street noise. Worn finishes. Outdated bathrooms and elevators. Not to mention inefficient classroom and office space.

With these challenges in mind, Penn’s board of trustees in November approved $16.4 million in renovations to Bennett Hall, which is now home to the English and music departments, as well as the English language program and Latino and Latin American studies. This first phase of a two-part project should begin in the fall and last about 12 months, allowing the building to be reopened by the fall of 2005, according to Mark Wilson, managing director of facilities and real estate services. Bennett’s last significant renovation took place in 1966.

“The current spaces are below standard from the standpoint of accessibility, finishes, acoustics, HVAC, technology, and functionality,” Wilson writes in an e-mail. “At the same time, however, Bennett Hall is a historically and architecturally important building. The collegiate Gothic façade and, in particular, the prominent angled front entrance at 34th and Walnut, make Bennett Hall a campus landmark.” He notes that some parts of the building have held up well over the years. “The brick walls and limestone trim are in very good condition.”

The first phase of work includes updating the HVAC, electrical wiring, fire, and security systems as well as replacing windows and overhauling spaces throughout the building (except on the fourth floor).

The renovations will be paid for through the School of Arts and Sciences bank fund, gifts, and an internal loan. When more money becomes available, an additional $2.9 million in renovations is proposed to replace windows and accommodate numerous classrooms and music performance and practice spaces on the fourth floor. 


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