Behrend’s Federal House finds new life with $6.6 million renovation

Freeman

For years, it sat empty and unused along the eastern edge of Penn State Behrend‘s campus in Harborcreek Township. While the township’s oldest brick house — built in 1838 — crumbled outside, squirrels scattered walnuts inside. In earlier times, the building that Behrend dubbed Federal House had been a stagecoach […]

For years, it sat empty and unused along the eastern edge of Penn State Behrend‘s campus in Harborcreek Township.

While the township’s oldest brick house — built in 1838 — crumbled outside, squirrels scattered walnuts inside. In earlier times, the building that Behrend dubbed Federal House had been a stagecoach stop and a safe house on the Underground Railroad.

Now, 34 years after Larry and Kathryn Smith donated the property to Behrend, the 184-year-old structure has a new look and a new purpose.

Behrend’s Federal House finds new life with .6 million renovation

Related coverage:Nearly 70 years old, Erie Hall at Penn State Behrend razed to make way for new fitness center

Following a $6.6 million restoration and expansion, the house where cobbler Thomas Bonnell and his wife Eva raised nine children is now the home of the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Community Outreach, Research, and Evaluation or C.O.R.E.

Named for and endowed by the late Susan Hirt Hagen, a long-time board member of Erie Insurance, which was co-founded by her father, H.O. Hirt, C.O.R.E. was formed in 1998 to address concerns about teen pregnancy in Erie County.

More:Thomas Hagen continues restoration mission in Erie. Here are some of his current projects

New building, broader mission

The mission has been expanded along with the building, said James Hodge, an assistant professor of psychology and director of C.O.R.E.

The program, which had been located in a ranch-style house on Jordan Road, has moved into a new headquarters formed by the marriage of that 19-century brick house with a modern steel-and-glass structure to create an 11,000,square-foot complex.

The old Federal House and the new expansion are shown, on June 6, 2022, at the eastern end of the Penn State Behrend campus in Harborcreek Township. The Federal House is undergoing a multi-million expansion and improvement.

Erie Insurance Chairman Thomas Hagen, whose late wife endowed the program, joined forces with Penn State Behrend to fund the renovation and expansion.

Behrend Chancellor Ralph Ford said Hagen asked that no details be provided about the exact amount of his contribution.

“He was the major donor on this project,” Ford said. “Without his support and without his vision it would not have happened.”

First floor office room of the newly expanded section of the Federal House is shown, on June 6, 2022, at the eastern end of the Penn State Behrend campus in Harborcreek Township. The Federal House is undergoing a multi-million expansion and improvement.

Hagen not only supplied funding, he provided the idea, Ford said.

“The building has sat here on campus and we have been looking for a use for it for over 30 years,” Ford said. “We had thought about it before he approached us, but we did not have the right vision.”

Ford said he likes that the building is one of the first things drivers see as they pass by on the Bayfront Connector. He also likes what the program says about a campus often known for its engineering and business programs.

“It means a lot,” Ford said. “It’s one of those great projects that has been great from beginning to end. This highlights the great work that is being done by the Susan Hirt Hagen C.O.R.E. Center.”

Related coverage:Take a look inside Erie Insurance’s new $147 million Thomas B. Hagen Building

The Federal House conference room is shown, on June 6, 2022. The Federal House, at the eastern end of the Penn State Behrend campus in Harborcreek Township,  is undergoing a multi-million expansion and improvement. A portrait of Tom Hagen benefactor of the project and chairman of Erie Inurance, hangs in the background.

Important to the family

Hagen, whose portrait hangs in the conference room, said he stands by the program’s mission.

“It’s been important to our family and to my wife, who was really the founder of it,” Hagen said. “It was something that was very near and dear to her. It’s really blossomed over the years since.”

More:Transformational win streak marks Penn State Behrend Chancellor Ralph Ford’s 5th anniversary

James Hodge, director of Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Community Outreach, Research, and Evaluation or C.O.R.E. shows at the newly expanded section of the Federal House, on June 6, 2022, at the eastern end of the Penn State Behrend campus in Harborcreek Township. The Federal House is undergoing a multi-million expansion and improvement.

Today, C.O.R.E. is focused on a broader mission, to study and develop “things that youth need to grow up and function at a high level,” Hodge said.

That’s done through mentoring programs in Erie County middle and high schools.

In most cases, “We take the show on the road. We have school districts that will sign up and we will write a year’s worth of curriculum to mentor students,” Hodge said.

Next Post

The key to the keys | Neighborhood Extra

“Fortune favors the brave,” and those who persevere. The potential homebuyers wrote three offers. Each time, giving it all they had the capacity to give. They lost each time. Their price point was competitive and their means modest, but their preparation was excellent and their expectations realistic. The fourth time […]
The key to the keys | Neighborhood Extra