(Revised) The University of Pennsylvania, which has slowly paid down the towring hospital debt that stalled its construction projects in the late 1990s, earlier this year decided rates had fallen far enough to make it worthwhile to borrow $300 million through taxable 100-year bonds -- a rare vote of confidence by investors, who agreed to pay a rock-bottom 4.674% interest through 2113.
That's just about as cheap as 30-year bonds, and better than MIT and CalTech got on their own recent century bonds -- plus you don't have to worry about refinancing until everyone who approved the deal is dead, as Penn treasurer Stephen D. Golding told the Pennsylvania Gazette at the time.
What will Penn do with the money? The largest share, $200 milion, is earmarked for energy conservation projects. Penn hired Red Bank, NJ-based Torcon Inc., a construction firm with a local office at the Navy Yard, for this "unique project," says Torcon project executive John DeFazio: "We're going through and evaluating some 40 to 50 buildings for lighting and heating, ventilating and air conditionng improvements to their energy efficiency. This includes a lot of the older buildings, and most of the buildings in their core campus."
"It' a vast array of buildings," DeFazio told me. The Furness Library with its giddy brickwork and leaded stained-glass windows, and the hulking postwar Van Pelt Library across the commons. There's Victorian-era College and Logan Halls, built of crumbly Chester County serpentine stone, and the blocky classroom stacks of the social science departments; the medical and science and engineering labs with their chilled-water and hazardous-material and airflow issues; and the soaring blank atriums of the Wharton complex; all linked by steam loops as well as more ordinary utilities.