By Ashley Dale
COAA Marketing Communications

One of the largest residence hall construction projects ever undertaken by Penn State University, East Halls encompassed outdoor spaces, new construction of two halls, and renovation of six halls built in the 1960s. 

The university chose to use Design-Build (D-B) delivery to ensure a collaborative and innovative approach to the multi-phased scope. Penn State tasked the D-B team of Clayco, Mackey Mitchell Architects, and DLA+ Architecture & Interior Design to conduct an acceleration study to explore options for faster completion. 

Through that study and embracing the D-B approach, the overall project will be completed three years ahead of schedule and the scope increased to fund an additional residence hall, which will generate income for the university.

The projects incorporated many high-efficiency strategies, including Pull Planning, BIM360, and Oracle Prime. Still, project goals were ultimately achieved through the buy-in and commitment of the team to embrace the term community throughout the project.  This philosophy extended to efforts to ensure the best and most capable local partners were involved.


The overwhelming success of this $230M project stemmed directly from PSU’s leadership by example and the entire team’s commitment to collaboration, communication, and respect. 

Phase Two of the project is now underway as the renovation of the remaining nine buildings is completed.  In keeping with PSU’s commitment to sustainability, the phased East Halls projects have already achieved one Silver and two Gold LEED certifications.


“Within a university setting there are several ‘owners’ of a project, often with competing priorities, and the OPP staff has resolved these disputes professionally and with great patience. In addition, they have successfully facilitated several design meetings and helped direct the conversation to a consensus and a brilliant design.”

Conal F. Carr

Director, Housing Operations, Penn State University

“Team is an operative word for all things Penn State. Their internal group was a team and they treated us as part of the team – not as a hired commodity. They also embrace the one team concept which was noticeable at every level throughout the organization.”

Rick Moeckel, DBIA, LEED AP BD+C

Executive Vice President & Shareholder, Clayco

“As a design professional, the thing I appreciate most about this Owner is the level of cooperation, trust, and respect they demonstrate with the D-B team and each other, particularly the Penn State user group – Housing and Food Services (HFS). There are no egos or grand-standing apparent during our sessions together. Everyone at Penn State is clearly unified by their shared mission of maximizing the greatest benefit to the student residents while balancing the constraints of the schedule and budget. This Owner has a solid compass. You just know they will always do the right thing.”

Stephen Emer, AIA, LEED BD+C

President, Mackey Mitchell Architects

The COAA Project Leadership Award is an annual awards program that recognizes Owners’ excellence in project delivery. The program promotes leadership, professionalism, and management excellence of Owners involved in the design and construction process.  

The Award is given to the Owner(s) who achieves excellence by demonstrating exceptional leadership and project management skills which includes: vision, integrity, team-building, communication, fairness, problem resolution, decision-making, plan implementation, etc.