Bypassing a request from Gov. Wolf to reconsider or reshape their proposal, Pennsylvania State University's board of trustees on Tuesday agreed to spend more than $100 million to add dormitories and expand dining services at two Philadelphia-area campuses.
Voting 22-13, the trustees approved building a 402-bed apartment-style residence hall along Old York Road to serve the school's campus in Abington. The Brandywine campus in Media is slated to get a 256-bed residence hall and a 31,000-square-foot student union.
All three projects, which could be completed by 2017, reflect steps by the university to broaden its appeal for students in and around the Philadelphia region.
They also stoked concern from Harrisburg.
Last month, Wolf asked the trustees to postpone a vote on the plans. John Hanger, Wolf's secretary of planning and policy, and a nonvoting representative on the board, said at the time that his fellow board members needed to distinguish between projects that constitute real needs vs. wants.
On Tuesday, another trustee appointed by the governor, Elliott Weinstein, offered an alternative supported by the Wolf administration.
It called for approving the three projects but required trustees to consider the option of a public-private partnership for any construction project proposals starting in 2016. His motion also directed the Penn State administration to draft a three-year moratorium on room and board fees through 2018.
It failed in a 21-14 vote, with trustees saying they needed to discuss the plan further. The board did, however, agree to consider public-private partnerships for two projects: a residence hall at Penn State Altoona and a mixed-use building at the main campus.
In a statement, board chairman Keith Masser called those projects "test cases" for future public-private partnerships.
With Tuesday's approval, half of Penn State's 20 campuses will have on-site student housing. With almost 4,000 students, Abington is the third-largest branch campus. Brandywine, the sixth-largest campus, has 1,457 students.
Both areas are projected to enroll 28,000 high school seniors by 2021, the largest number of any region in the state.
After the trustees' vote, Penn State Brandywine chancellor Kristin Woolever said the projects would help bring "such a culture change" there, providing students with more of a full-campus experience.
"More students will be attracted to the campus who couldn't come from out of state because there was no place for them to live," Woolever said. "And it will certainly help the economy around here."