Behrend begins $6.6M Federal House project

An artist's rendering of the expanded Federal House at Penn State Behrend.

A $6.6 million renovation and expansion of Penn State Behrend’s Federal House will create a new home for the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Community Outreach, Research, and Evaluation (CORE). 

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — A $6.6 million renovation and expansion of Penn State Behrend’s Federal House – the oldest brick building in Harborcreek Township – is underway, with cranes and earth-moving equipment preparing the site for an 11,000-square-foot upgrade.

The project, which began in January, will create a new home for the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Community Outreach, Research and Evaluation (CORE), which provides school-focused and community programs to more than 3,000 youth across the Erie region every year.

Work at the site is expected to continue into December. Live and time-lapse video of the project can be viewed at

The Federal House is believed to have been built in 1838 by Thomas Bonnell, a cobbler. He and his wife, Eva, raised nine children in the two-story home, which also served as a stagecoach stop.

Later, the home was used as a “safe house” on the Underground Railroad.

Longtime supporters of the college Larry and Kathryn Smith donated the house and its surrounding property to Penn State Behrend in 1988. The college took steps to preserve the building – cleaning and restoring the masonry, replacing the roof and installing new windows – but has not used the house.

“We’ve been intentional in how we repurpose this historic structure,” Behrend Chancellor Ralph Ford said. “The renovation and expansion of the Federal House will result in a simple but graceful building that preserves the structure, adds character to the Behrend campus and creates new training, programming and partnership opportunities for CORE.”

The project is being funded by private support, and by the University.

Susan Hirt Hagen CORE, an outreach center of the college’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences, provides programming to K-12 students across Erie County. CORE’s signature programs include the Mentor Project, which matches at-risk youth with trained college students and community members at 10 sites in Erie County, and Positive Youth Development, which applies the 40 Developmental Assets framework to create a comprehensive safety net of school, community and family support resources.

Renovation of the Federal House will allow CORE to expand both its school-focused programs and its partnerships with key community groups, including Erie Insurance, the Erie Community Foundation and United Way of Erie County.

The new building will add classrooms, collaborative meeting rooms and a 100-person event space. It also will expand the research and outreach opportunities for Behrend students who work with CORE’s faculty and staff.

“The design defines a space of inclusion, community, security and growth,” said Anne Chen, a design team member and principal at GBBN Architects. “It reimagines the architectural language of the house to be a place of inspiration. In so doing, it supports the mission of CORE and renews and elevates the Federal House to its new use.”