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Viterbo University is a private school in La Crosse, Wis., with a nationally renowned School of Nursing. For many years, Viterbo’s students received their education in a former elementary school renovated to accommodate the nursing department. This year, however, the School of Nursing graduated to a new 68,777-square-foot facility that includes classrooms, a simulated-learning center, laboratories, and faculty offices.
Designed by HGA Architects and Engineers, the new Viterbo University School of Nursing, an L-shaped building with an outdoor healing garden and welcoming common space, also houses the college’s departments of public health, dietetics and nutrition.“The new School of Nursing allows the school to increase its enrollment by 25 percent to meet regional healthcare needs,” says David Lang, AIA, senior project designer, HGA. “In addition, the facility is a designated classroom building for the university, which means students from non-nursing departments and programs will enjoy classes in the building, as well.” After touring one of HGA’s recent ‘sim centers,’ the School of Nursing administrators and staff decided to include a nursing simulation center in their facility as well.“The school really wanted to spend its funds where they would have the most impact on the students’ education, which meant technology for the labs and simulation center,” says Russell Drewry, AIA, project architect, HGA.Viterbo’s simulation center has four labs for critical care, med-surgery, maternity and pediatrics simulations. In these simulated settings, nursing students practice a curriculum of diagnostic and care techniques using the appropriate medical equipment and systems technology, often on life-size, physiologically responsive mannequins (electronically controlled by an instructor in an adjacent control room). Each lab has an observation/debriefing room as well.The center also includes a simulation nurses’ station, and a health assessment lab with five beds and four exam rooms in which students practice bedside procedures on “patients” who are often actors. The entry lobby for the simulation center has slate floors, wood paneling, coved ceilings, and a glass wall that allows for viewing into the critical care lab. HGA sited the new facility on a former parking lot south of the Nursing School’s old location in the elementary school. The L-shaped structure is clad in a subtle red/orange brick that resonates with brick on the campus’s oldest building, the Chapel of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Similarly, exterior bands of limestone-colored precast aesthetically connect the School of Nursing with the adjacent Art Center.“Now there’s a strong collegiate presence on the campus with its brick exterior, elegantly refined detailing and inviting commons area,” says Lang, “and it completes a campus quad at the corner of 10th Street and Highway 33.”The nursing building’s first level and its vertical stairwells have glass walls, which create a visual connection between the building’s interior and passersby outside. The building’s circulation spine also connects with a major campus pathway, says Drewry. “Circulation starts at the south entrance, continues through the building toward the north and empties into the main quadrangle of the campus. In winter, students traveling through the building will find respite in the common room with its wood-paneled fireplace, comfortable seating and views to the garden. In the more temperate months, they’ll enjoy spending time in the garden.”HGA divided the building into a five-story wing and a three-story perpendicular wing, which are connected via a glass atrium. A garden within the L-shaped notch, on the southwest corner, includes seasonal plantings along with ornamental trees and evergreens, seating, sculpture and a labyrinth with slate pathways.The five-story wing houses easily stackable rooms with similar configurations along double-loaded corridors. On the first floor is the community room that welcomes all students with coved ceilings, a fireplace, couches, garden views and art. The natural slate floor in the garden is used in the common room, as well. In the 8-foot-wide hallways on the first floor, HGA created built-in wood niches for students to enjoy conversations, work on their laptops or read a book.Also on the first floor are the Heritage Conference Room, a lecture hall and the Dean’s office suite. On the upper floors are the nursing labs, classrooms with flexible seating and equipment for diverse teaching methodologies, additional lecture halls, and faculty offices with views of the Mississippi River bluffs. Common spaces throughout the building foster conversation and collaboration between students and faculty.The three-story wing of the nursing school houses less conventional spaces, such as a Conference Center with 150-seat lecture hall that features wood paneling, audio-visual equipment, tiered seating, a full-wall projection screen, and stage area with lectern. Also on the first floor is a 100-seat lecture hall/classroom with the flexibility to accommodate various interactive and media-rich learning modalities. On the second floor are the food science, nutrition assessment and computer testing labs, and exam rooms. The Nursing Simulation Center is at the top of the wing, on the third floor.To facilitate the six-month, fast-track design process, HGA used a 3D computerized Building Information Modeling (BIM) system to promote discussion and drive a Lean process that eliminated unnecessary square footage and costs. “All of the subcontractors were brought in from the start,” Drewry says, “so we could identify and resolve all potential challenges before construction began.”Online surveys were used to solicit information and feedback from administrators and users. Meeting notes shared on Blackboard, physical building models and design drawings also increased the team’s design/build efficiencies.
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