The Poplar House on Kutztown Road will be re-purposed as Kutztown University’s Visitors Center. Funding for the renovation and addition project is tentatively scheduled for this academic year, but no date has been set for construction.
“The Visitors Center would act as the gateway to the campus so that as people visit for admissions tours, for admissions events like our open house events; that would be where they would be greeted and welcomed to the campus and given information,” said Warren Hilton, v.p. of enrollment and student affairs. “It’s an opportunity to have a central location and entrance to the campus that is welcoming and would be a place where individuals for many for the first time have their experience start at Kutztown University.”
Hilton is pleased that a historic building can be repurposed.
“It sits right there at the entrance to campus, so it’s easy to find,” he said. “It gives our visitors one place that they know they can go to and get information.”
What makes this center a friendly first impression?
“Well, certainly the design of the building is attractive but I think what ultimately makes our campus welcoming is the people. So the people that would be in the Visitors Center that would be greeting people and assisting them is what really makes it welcoming. That’s who we are as Kutztown University. We are a place where you get warm welcomes,” said Hilton.
“The project will create a sense of place for KU, a lasting positive impression for those who visit. External green spaces will lead visitors to the facility, creating exterior gathering spaces and inviting walkways,” said Matt Santos, vice president, University Relations & Athletics. “In addition, another benefit of the project is the ability to further enhance relationships with the local community by providing an outlet for information regarding local businesses, restaurants, activities, services, and points of interest. The new addition and upgrade to the existing facility are intended to be sensitive to the architecture of the existing building, and be respectful of the building’s historical significance to the campus and the local community.”
History of the Poplar House
“The historical center of campus is Kutztown Road,” said Santos. “The campus started in Old Main in 1866 and pretty much grew out from there. You get a combination of the beauty and historical significance of the campus just by driving through campus… you really feel like you’re driving through history.”
Sue Czerny, KU archives and digital initiatives librarian, found a handwritten notation on the back of a photograph from Dec. 15, 1955 that states the Poplar House was erected in 1893, was the Tyson residence and was the home of a professor of English.
“Except for the shrubbery, the house looks just as it does now,” said Czerny.
Czerny also found a dedication program from when the General State Authority and the Works Progress Administration presented the keys of the Kutz Residence (Poplar House) over to the college in 1938. A pamphlet from El Castillo, circa 1975, shows that at one time the Poplar House served as the Spanish House, student housing for those wishing to immerse in the language and culture.
Right now, the Poplar House is used as storage for the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center but that is being moved to another location.
History of the Project
Ken Steward, associate v.p. for academic financial management, said a Visitors Center has been on their wish list for some time, going back to when Academic and Student Affairs were together.
“We saw that it was very difficult to bring families into the current building and that there wasn’t enough space… Not a lot of space for the tour guides to really talk to the families so we came up with the idea that it would be nice to have some type of welcome Visitors Center but also have a place for Admissions to have a front end so that there was some place to go,” he said.
While KU has a Help Desk at the Student Union Building and an Admissions building, Steward said KU does not have one easily accessible place to greet people, “One that really defines the campus so this project was built as one that would help Admissions but also help the community because it’s right there on the corner.”
“This is supposed to have some outdoor gathering spaces, conference room inside and a lot of space for Admissions to welcome families and have the proper restroom facilities, the coat racks, a proper place to sit down with families that is all inclusive and was right there in the middle of the heart of the campus,” added Steward.
Plans are in the very early stages. A rendering shows expanded parking and an addition on the East side and in the rear of the building.
“It was envisioned as a place that the campus and the community could go there and meet at a conference room. If they needed to go talk to someone, there would be tour guides there and it would be the welcoming to the University,” said Steward. “The building’s been there for a while so you have to do some kind of addition to it and you had to fix up the building; you couldn’t just use it as is. That was the whole idea behind the project. Having it on the corner really made it attractive for the University to have a place where people can stop and get a map of the area, get information on the area, take a tour of the campus.”
The project has been approved by PASSHE and is included on the Capital Project Plan submitted to the legislature for Fiscal Year 19-20 funding. Once funding is appropriated by the legislature, the Department of General Services will begin the process of assigning the project to one of their project managers. Currently, there is no projected timeline for construction.