Trustees committee recommends Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel renovation plan

Feb 17, 2022

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. –  A proposal for an extensive renovation and expansion of the Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel Building on the University Park campus, a part of Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), was advanced today (Feb. 17) by the Board of Trustees Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning. The proposal will be considered by the full board at its meeting on Feb. 18.

The building, constructed in 1949 to house the 48-inch-diameter Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel, is named in honor of Lt. j.g. W. Garfield Thomas Jr., a 1938 Penn State alumnus who died in battle during World War II and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart. He was Penn State's first reported hero of the war.

The Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel was built in 1949 in response to the United States Navy’s need to improve and advance torpedo and propeller designs. After World War II, the Navy partnered with what was then the Ordnance Research Laboratory at Penn State — now ARL — to design and build the 48-inch (1.2-meter) diameter water tunnel, the largest in the world. The facility remains active to this day and provides researchers with the tools to study a variety of fluid dynamic phenomena such as turbine design, cavitation and turbulence critical to the development of undersea technology and systems.

“The renovation and addition to the Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel will allow this facility to remain a state-of-the-art research facility for many years in the future. Work performed in this building has benefited the nation in many areas such as national defense, biomedical devices and renewable energy, and we look forward to continuing this great work in the newly renovated building,” said Dean Capone, a deputy director at ARL.  

The Applied Research Laboratory is a vibrant part of the University’s research portfolio. ARL is a self-supported unit with research expenditures in University fiscal year 2021 at $262 million, contributing significantly to the nearly $1 billion of research conducted by Penn State.

“The Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel has been an integral part of ARL since its inception and investing in this renovation and addition is a key part of our strategy to maintain ARL as a technology leader for the University and the nation,” said Allan Sonsteby, executive director of ARL.

The $34.3 million project will include a renewal of building systems for improved efficiencies, additions and modifications to the building envelope, and replacement of the single-pane curtain wall facing North Atherton Street. The project will address accessibility, code compliance and safety concerns while improving the overall functionality for the facility.The last major renovation to the Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel was completed in 1988. This project will address approximately $12.9 million of maintenance backlog at University Park.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated the Garfield Thomas Water Tunnel a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1996.


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


College of Engineering Media Relations