In the spring of 1939, a citizen’s committee led by Altoona Chamber of Commerce Chairman J.E. (Ted) Holtzinger convinced Ralph D. Hetzel, president of the Pennsylvania State College, to support an undergraduate center in Altoona. In July, the citizen’s committee launched a campaign to raise money to renovate an abandoned grade school building to house the new center.
On September 13, 1939, the Altoona Undergraduate Center opened in the Webster Grade School Building in downtown Altoona. The freshman class of 119 commuter students was taught by nine faculty members. In 1940, the citizen’s committee was reorganized into an Advisory Board for the Center. A second downtown building, Madison, was then purchased in order to make room for sophomore science courses.
Returning World War II veterans overfilled the Webster and Madison buildings in 1946 and the Center desperately needed more space. The Advisory Board purchased Ivyside Park in 1947, an abandoned 38-acre amusement park on the outskirts of the city, for a new campus. Existing park buildings, such as the bathhouse, a huge two-block-long dressing room, were renovated for the Center’s use, hence the Center’s affectionate nickname, “Bathhouse U.” The Ivyside Park campus opened in 1948 with approximately 600 students and thirty faculty members. During the 1950s, associate degree programs were added and brought many more out-of-town students to Altoona. As enrollment increased, so did funds from the community. Money was pledged to build the E. Raymond Smith Building, a classroom and administration building that replaced the Bathhouse. In 1958 with the opening of the Smith Building, the AUC’s name was changed to the Altoona Campus of The Pennsylvania State University. On July 1, 1997, the Penn State Altoona Campus became Penn State Altoona, a four-year baccalaureate degree-granting College of the University.
The first residence hall (Oak) and the Harry E. Slep Student Center opened in 1964. Six more buildings opened in 1970: a second residence hall (Maple), a dining hall, the library, the science and engineering buildings, and the chapel, which was built entirely with privately subscribed funds. The Steven A. Adler Athletic Complex was built in two stages in 1972 and 1977. Five more new buildings were built during the 1980’s, which essentially completed Penn State Altoona’s physical plant. The bookstore building was completed in 1985, a third residence hall (Spruce) in 1987, the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts and the Computer and Learning Resources Center opened in 1989, and a maintenance building was completed in 1993.
Construction for the Cedar residence hall and the Ralph and Helen Force Advanced Technology Center broke ground in the spring of 1996, and both were completed in the fall of 1997. The Slep Student Center was renovated during the 1995-96 academic year and again in 2001-02 with the addition of the Common Grounds Coffeehouse, and free-weight rooms were added to the Adler Athletic Complex during the summers of 1996 and 1997. In 1998, the Edith Davis Eve Chapel was made handicapped accessible. The Cypress building was completed in 1999 and the Spring Run Stadium was completed in 2002. The Stadium features a regulation soccer field, 8-lane track and 2,000 seat grandstand. The Sheetz Family Health Center opened its doors in 2002, providing a home for the College’s nursing degree progrms, Health and Wellness Center, and a private urgent care center open to both the College and community. In 2005, the College’s newest classroom building celebrated its grand opening. The Hawthorn Building houses fifty-six faculty offices and twenty-four classrooms, including a music rehearsal room and three computer classrooms.
Over the years, the Advisory Board purchased land bordering Penn State Altoona as it becomes available. The Ivyside Park campus now contains 150 acres with more than twenty buildings centered around a pond, the original warming dam from the Ivyside Amusement Park.
Penn State Altoona now is home to more than 4,000 students. With four residence halls, approximately 900 students reside on campus, with many more just walking distance away in the many off-campus housing options available. Our student-athletes compete at the NCAA Division III level, and our recreational athletes participate in a multitude of intramural activities.
As one of the twenty-four locations of The Pennsylvania State University located throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Penn State Altoona has one of the largest enrollments next to the University Park campus. We are proud to offer many baccalaureate and associate degree programs that can be completed at Penn State Altoona, as well as the first two years of study for more than 180 Penn State majors.
Whether you choose to complete your degree at Penn State Altoona, or transfer to another Penn State location to complete your course of study, you will graduate with a Penn State degree and join the largest dues-paying alumni association in the country.