Temple business school set to open showcase

Posted: January 18, 2009

Alter Hall, the new Temple University business school building opening Tuesday, was under construction for so long that associate business school dean Diana Breslin-Knudsen dreams about it.

"I like to fly through the building like a bird," she said. In her dreams, she swoops through the atrium, flitting through a mobile of flags from many nations, painted on metal fishlike shapes.

On the second floor, she wings her way past the huge revolving stock ticker, which frames a circular student lounge, just across the way from the stock-trading room.

From there, it's not far to the seventh-floor M.B.A. lounge and event space, with its views of Philadelphia's skyscrapers to the south and the vibrant campus below.

"I love the openness of the building," she said.

Tuesday's opening is a bright spot for Temple, which is struggling in the economy. On Thursday, president Ann Weaver Hart told employees that Temple would cut its budget 5 percent, or $40 million, and freeze nonunion salaries.

But those grim realities won't be forefront on Breslin-Knudsen's mind Tuesday, when students return from their winter break.

Well before the first class at the ungodly hour of 8:30 a.m., Breslin-Knudsen will be at the front door, feet planted firmly on the ground, with only her heart aflutter.

"I want to see the look in their eyes when they come in for the first time," she said.

It's easy to wax romantic about a brand-new, $80 million, high-tech, multigizmoed building - even as it looked last week with construction debris scattered everywhere.

But the way the school's dean, M. Moshe Porat, head of Temple's Fox School of Business and School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, describes it, Alter Hall was designed to embody the school's educational philosophy - and to solve some very real problems.

First problem: space.

Temple's 6,300 business students and 700 tourism students had outgrown the business school's home in Speakman Hall, which had grown shabby from overuse. (That building got a face-lift and a charming coffee lounge, with huge windows overlooking the campus as part of the deal.)

Another problem was faculty recruitment. "The way the economy has been in the last 10 years, faculty had become a scarce commodity," easily lured away by business, Porat said. It didn't help that the best Temple could do were some rundown offices scattered among 10 or 12 buildings.

A third problem was the changing nature of business education. "It's much more global, much more about entrepreneurship, much more experiential," Porat said.

But Speakman didn't have the space to foster the small-group collaboration that has become key in business schools, Porat said. In the new building, classrooms are ringed with dozens of small conference rooms, equipped with whiteboards and computer technology. Students can book the rooms using their Temple ID cards.

"It's a nice space for people to hang out," he said.

Hanging out is important, as are lots of offices for student business organizations.

"If you are one of 30,000 [Temple students], and you don't belong to any one group, you are just in a train station," he said. "We have to reduce a big college to a small one so they can develop networks for life."

Beyond educational uses, Porat said, the building was designed with marketing in mind. Big windows on the lower floors give passersby a sense of dynamic bustle, important in selling the business school - and Temple - to prospective students, parents and donors.

"It's the sizzle," he said.

Porat, Breslin-Knudsen and John DeAngelo, associate dean of information technology, described a long process of persuading Temple's leadership to back the building. In the end, $75 million was earmarked, with Temple, the state and donors each contributing a third of the cost.

A $15 million gift from Temple alum Dennis Alter, chief executive officer of Advanta Corp., in Spring House, and his wife, Gisela, generated momentum.

Porat said Alter was drawn to an important aspect of Temple's student body.

"About 65 [percent] to 70 percent of Temple's graduates stay in the region," Porat said. "So whatever you do here is an investment in Philadelphia, in the workforce, and in its executives."

Official opening ceremonies will be held in the spring.

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Alter Hall

The new home of Temple University's Fox School of Business opens Tuesday.

Location: 13th and Montgomery Sts., Phila.

Cost: $80 million.

Architect: Michael Graves & Assoc., Princeton.

Size: Eight floors, 217,000 square feet.

Cool art: A 6,400-pound moveable granite globe, floating on a thin jet of water.

Bragging point: Longest elliptical stock ticker (177 feet) in a U.S. business school.

SOURCE: Temple University

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