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U. begins renovation of nursing school

$23M makeover to increase capacity, update technology

Published: Saturday, Nov. 22 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

A rendering of what the renovation project at the University of Utah's nursing school should look like when it's completed.

A solid Portuguese marble statue of Florence Nightingale donned on Friday the bubble wrap it will wear for the next two years while upgrades are made to the College of Nursing at the University of Utah.

Renovation got under way Friday, though 175 nursing faculty and staff have been moving out of their offices to a temporary downtown location since August. They'll be displaced more than 18 months while the 40-year-old, five-story building gets a $23 million makeover.

"With modern technology and new office space made possible by the renovation, we will be able to recruit and retain top faculty and make nursing education more available, thus helping to alleviate the nursing shortage," said Maureen R. Keefe, dean of the College of Nursing. She said the school turns away a large percentage of qualified applicants every year due to a lack of instructors.

In addition to a face-lift, the building will be getting swept for asbestos and will become seismically sound. The entire building will be rewired for enhanced electronic and wireless communication, and other systems will be replaced for increased efficiency.

"It'll be hard to be away from it all, but we'll be keeping our eye on the prize," she said. The prize, she said, includes a fully functional simulation learning facility, made possible by a $3 million donation from Intermountain Healthcare. The 5,600-square-foot, state-of-the-art center will include computerized patient mannequins to help interpret real-life scenarios involving surgical, pediatric, maternal and critical care.

"This partnership will be critical for patients whose health care will depend on the training done within these walls," said A. Lorris Betz, vice president for health sciences at the U. Other renovations include a new auditorium and classrooms, as well as additional office space.

"The bottom line will be good for all of us," he said, adding that the building still needs another $3 million to be fully funded. State funds are committed to fund $9.5 million of the project, while donations have brought the total up to $10.5 million so far.

A $5 million donation made by Ian Cumming for his wife's birthday provides the namesake of the Annette Poulson Cumming Building, while other donations also help to make significant progress on the renovation, which has been a goal for more than two years.

U. President Michael K. Young said the upgrades will fit in nicely with other buildings within the health sciences complex, "forming a collaboration to create the kind of learning that is fundamental to providing quality health care."

"This is a prime example of how the University of Utah is Utah's university," he said, adding that the U. is the only institution in the state that is charged to produce nursing educators. The facility, Young said, will be Utah's contribution to cutting down the growing nursing shortage, not only providing the ability to train more nurses but also more nursing trainers.

There are currently nearly 1,500 unfilled nursing positions in Utah. The shortage, Young said, increases the cost of health care throughout the state and makes quality care difficult to find in every region. New online nursing education programs in place through the U. aim to help grow opportunities for care in rural Utah.

"The shortage of faculty is at the root of the nursing shortage," Keefe said, adding her excitement that a new building is a large step in the right direction.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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