Reaching new heights

The new College of Health Professions building will unify faculty, staff and students for greater success

By Anne Dreyfuss

 

In the winter, recently graduated physical therapy student Carlin Tettelbach, D.P.T. (D.P.T.’18/HP), often saw sunlight for only an hour of her day.

“We are pretty happy and positive people, but it can be gloomy at times,” the 26-year-old said of herself and her class-mates at the time, who spent weekdays together at the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Physical Therapy, which is housed in the basement of West Hospital on the MCV Campus. The perpetually cold and windowless basement is prone to flooding.

“It is a little dreary and very old, but we deal with it because we have such great professors and great classmates,” Tettelbach said.

For 16 years, students have endured the dark, damp and dreary environment in exchange for the opportunity to learn from the world-renowned faculty that the department recruits. But soon, students will not have to sacrifice sunlight for academic pursuits. In spring 2015, the Virginia legislature and the VCU Board of Visitors approved plans for a new College of Health Professions building that will bring the college’s nine academic units, the doctoral program in health-related sciences, the dean’s office and the Virginia Center on Aging under one roof. Construction for the new building is scheduled to be completed in spring 2019, and by the start of the fall semester in 2019, the building will be fully equipped and ready for students and faculty.

“I have always had it as my goal to get a building,” says College of Health Professions Dean Cecil B. Drain, Ph.D. “It is a phenomenally deserving school.”

A HISTORIC UNDERTAKING

When Drain began leading the then-School of Allied Health Professions in 1997, the previous dean showed him an architectural rendering of a new building for the school that had been drawn in 1985.

“That was the last time we had a shot at a new building,” Drain says.

Creating a unified space for the college and its top-ranked programs is a priority of VCU’s Master Site Plan, which was developed by university officials with stakeholder input. The plan includes development, renovation and construction on the MCV Campus that enhances academic instruction and health sciences research.

VCU began planning for the new building in fall 2013 with a study led by a committee that included faculty, staff and student representatives. In 2014, the committee conducted a preliminary study to develop a conceptual design of the building.

Support from university leadership provided the necessary boost to turn the plan into a reality.

“Our nationally premier College of Health Professions needed space that matched the remarkable talent of the faculty, staff and students who compose it,” says VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Having these renowned researchers, educators and practitioners together under one roof will foster the interprofessional collaboration that represents the future of health care.”

The new $87.3 million facility will unite the college’s units and offices, which have occupied 13 buildings in the past 49 years and are now scattered among five buildings on two campuses.

“With the new building, we will be a unified force,” Tettelbach said, adding that the only time she interacted with students from other departments was during monthly student executive board meetings. The majority of her classmates never met students from other departments.

“It will be a great way for students to interact interprofessionally and practice what the professors preach to us about working with other professions,” she adds.

THE HIDDEN CURRICULUM

The 154,100-square-foot College of Health Professions building is at 10th and Leigh streets in the space previously occupied by the Bear, Rudd, Warner and McRae residence halls. The LEED Silver-designed building is L-shaped, with a west- facing eight-story wing and a south-facing four-story wing.

Each of the building’s eight floors includes two informal spaces with tables, chairs and electrical outlets, where students can mingle and work collaboratively. The building also features plentiful outdoor space, with a deck and garden on the fourth floor that will be open year-round for students to gather

and study. The dean’s office will be housed in one of the lower levels, and departments will mostly be located on the upper floors.

“The hidden curriculum of this building is to bring people together so that they have a chance to understand one another’s profession,” Drain says. “One of the major goals of the building is to facilitate interactions among the various professions.”

The first-floor lobby features an open-concept space with a student-centric focus and an auditorium capable of seating 160 students. Classrooms will be furnished to maximize flexibility and to accommodate various teaching styles and methods. Tables and chairs on wheels will allow a changing architecture depending on needs for each class.

The new classrooms will also have advanced telecommunications technologies, including two-way synchronous video-conferencing and satellite transmission technology. The college is a recognized leader in distance education both within the VCU community and nationally, having offered distance-learning programs for the past 22 years. Full programs are available in eight of the school’s nine departments, and all departments have courses available to distance learners. The new classroom technologies will increase the school’s distance-learning capabilities and will make it even more appealing for students who don’t live in Richmond, Virginia, to enroll in VCU’s programs.

The technological advances extend beyond the classrooms with a state-of-the-art simulation center, including operating rooms, recovery rooms and patient exam rooms. The center will have lifelike mannequins that simulate heartbeats, breathing and other vital signs to replicate real-life patient care situations. Increased space for laboratory teaching and student research opportunities are long-needed additions.

A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT

The construction of the building was financed by state bonds and university debt. Private philanthropy will enhance the interior of the facility with equipment, technology and resources that allow students to receive a top-quality education and prepare them for careers in health care.

“Our donors care about students and want them to have the best education possible,” says Alexander F. Tartaglia, D.Min., senior associate dean of the College of Health Professions. “They play a huge role in helping us deliver an educational experience that reflects what professionals in these fields do.”

The building’s educational spaces mirror the environments in which health profession students will work after graduation. This objective was important to donors such as Cathy Saunders (B.S.W.’76/SW; M.S.’82/HP).

“This project is more than just the physical bricks-and-mortar building,” says Saunders, an alumna of the college’s gerontology program whose gifts in support of the building total $30,000. “It’s an environment that will help students collaborate across disciplines, master their studies and get valuable hands-on experience with the equipment and technology they will use on the job.”

Suggestions for new technologies, as well as other input for the building’s design, came directly from students and faculty, who have been involved in planning from the beginning.

“They listened to us, and they knew what students would

like to have and what would benefit them,” said Tettelbach, who advocated for physical therapy students’ needs during the monthly student executive board meetings.

Teresa Nadder, Ph.D. (B.S.’78/HP; M.S.’89/HP; Ph.D.’98/M), chair and associate professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, helped develop the proposal that was sent to the Virginia General Assembly four years ago. She met with the building’s architects regularly to advocate for the specific needs of students and faculty from her department.

“I wanted to make sure that the needs of our students and faculty were met and to ensure that there would be room for our programs to grow,” she says.

The main benefit of moving to the building is for students and faculty to have the opportunity to interact with other departments, Nadder says. Her department has been housed at Randolph Minor Hall, at the farthest edge of the MCV Campus at 301 College St., for more than 50 years.

Interactions among departments will be as beneficial to students from other departments as they will be to clinical laboratory sciences students, Nadder says. Her department has the expertise to conduct clinical laboratory testing on research studies that students and faculty from other departments might be working on.

“We can be helpful with any type of research project that may involve correlation of laboratory results with patient diagnosis, prognosis or treatment monitoring,” Nadder says. “But we have to advertise what skills we possess and what services we can offer to other departments. This task will be easier when we are in one building.”

ROOM TO GROW

As with every other department in the school, the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences will benefit not only from the change in location but also from the increased space. The new building allows for separate instructional and research spaces, which currently overlap in the department’s 7,000-square-foot facility.  A recent study by an outside firm recommended an increase to at least 11,000 square feet for the department to adequately meet the existing need.

The increase in space will allow for expanded enrollment throughout the school, which is currently limited primarily by space restrictions. Drain estimates that the school will have about 20 percent more assignable space with the new building than it currently occupies across its myriad homes. The Department of Health Administration, which is now housed in the William H. Grant House on the MCV Campus, is limited literally by the number of chairs that can fit into the classrooms.

With the new building, the department can increase enrollment by 10 percent.

The appeal of the new building combined with the ability to accept more students will increase the school’s ability to attract and retain the best students and faculty in a variety of health sciences fields.

“We get the top students now, but we are going to get even better students with the new building,” Drain says. “We are going to be able to play in the big leagues in terms of faculty recruitment.”

Five of the school’s nine programs are ranked among the nation’s top 25 by U.S. News & World Report: nurse anesthesia at No. 1, health care management at No. 3, rehabilitation counseling at No. 4, occupational therapy at No. 17 and physical therapy at No. 20. The benefits of consolidating into one building will bolster the success of those programs while further improving the other departments in the college.

“Having the new building is going to enhance the stature of the college immensely,” Drain says. “We are headed into exciting times.”

Additional reporting by Brelyn Powell.

To learn more about the College of Health Professions, contact T. Greg Prince, senior director of development, at (804) 828-7247 or tgprince@vcu.edu.