August 28, 2008

Colleges expand to meet health care demand

  • Industry partners helping three Northwest schools teach students workplace skills
    Yost Grube Hall Architecture


    Nationally and in the Pacific Northwest, health care is at a crossroads.

    Health care workers are reaching retirement age in parallel with the overall population. The average age of a nurse is 53, while the number of people 65 and over is projected to grow by 147 percent over the next 40 years. The Oregon Employment Department is predicting an additional 1,200 new nursing jobs a year will become available in Oregon through 2014.

    This national and regional shortage is putting increased pressure on educational institutions and their staffs. The majority of this demand is being met by community colleges and their regional health care partners.

    Both Washington’s and Oregon’s proposed higher education budgets reflect this, providing funding for both staff and facility expansion. For architects and their design teams, allied health and science buildings provide a unique and challenging design opportunity. Allied health professionals typically cover a broad range of occupations that support the medical and dental fields, including nursing, dental hygiene and paramedic training.

    Health care partnerships

    Images courtesy of Yost Grube Hall Architecture
    Clackamas Community College’s recently completed Center for Health Education in Milwaukie, Ore., has a nursing lab that was modeled after a typical hospital, with patient rooms located around a central nursing station.

    These projects not only need to serve the general academic needs of the institutions and their curriculums, but they may also be influenced by partnerships with the health care industry.

    Most community colleges partner with local health care providers in an effort to provide hands-on experience in the workplace. These partnerships can also come onto campus in the form of clinics that provide free community services, and continuing education opportunities for health care staff.

    Flexible design

    Community colleges are in a constant state of change. With academic programs designed to serve the local community, the typical projection period is three to five years. The need for buildings that can accommodate academic change is critical.

    Establishing a building “planning module” that will accommodate labs, classrooms and offices will give the institution the physical and programmatic flexibility to expand and reconfigure in the future.

    The use of multi-disciplinary labs, or “flex-labs,” can also provide instructional and scheduling flexibility. These labs combine functions from multiple academic departments into a single lab, conserving valuable building area and providing collaboration between academic programs.

    Green features

    With most institutions designing to LEED standards, allied health and science facilities are becoming campus leaders in their use of water, daylighting, stormwater management, and integrated control of mechanical and electrical building systems. The design team, faculty and staff also have the opportunity to collaborate in the development of the sustainability features of the building, integrating academic programs and teaching curriculums with the architecture.

    Yost Grube Hall Architecture has a long history of collaboration with the heath care industry and community colleges. Most recently, the firm has been engaged with several community colleges in Washington and Oregon, assisting them with the design and construction of their allied health and science facilities.

    Skagit Valley College

    Skagit Valley College’s health and science building, now under construction, will have a distance-learning classroom suite to support its continuing education programs.

    In Mount Vernon, Skagit Valley College has a 67,000-square-foot allied health and science building currently under construction and scheduled for completion in the summer of 2009.

    As with many community colleges, Skagit Valley’s science and allied health programs were located in an older building no longer capable of effectively serving their physical and programmatic needs. This, combined with the growing demand for health care professionals in the Skagit Valley area, has been the driving force behind their expansion.

    Yost Grube Hall, teaming with the Seattle architectural firm of Schreiber Starling & Lane and laboratory planner X-nth from San Diego, began very early in the design process to understand the relationship between the college and its allied health partners, the academic mission of each program, and the sustainability goals of the departments and the institution.

    The college has numerous partners in the allied health professions located in the Skagit Valley, giving students the hands-on experience vital to their training.

    In an effort to support their continuing education programs and provide better connectivity with satellite campuses, the college is implementing a distance-learning program that will be supported by a state-of-the-art distance learning classroom suite located in the new building.

    Having resided in inadequate buildings for decades, the science and nursing program wanted a new building that could grow and change with them. A planning module was established for the lab and classroom areas that would allow classrooms to be converted to labs in the future.

    Science labs are separated by shared support spaces, conserving valuable square footage and providing connectivity between labs as well as the flexibility to team teach or expand into the neighboring lab for specific activities. The nursing program also elected to have a classroom built into its lab, combining traditional classroom lecture with lab-oriented activities.

    The design team and college staff, seeking a LEED silver certification, identified sustainable goals for the project that would also support the academic mission and daily instructional activities of the science department.

    In particular, a grant was obtained to provide for solar photovoltaic panels. These panels were integrated into the architecture of the building at the roof level as visual screening for the mechanical equipment. Power usage and monitoring from the panels will be integrated into the science labs.

    Skagit Valley College also has an environmental conservation program that wanted to monitor the stormwater coming off the roof. In response, an exterior courtyard, or rain garden, was created that collects and stores roof runoff so students and faculty can measure and sample the water. This brings principles from the classroom into the field without students and faculty having to leave their building.

    Central Oregon

    A proposed health and science building at Central Oregon Community College in Bend could provide more space for the school’s dental lab, where volunteer dentists work with students to provide basic care for local residents.

    Central Oregon Community College in Bend has just completed the conceptual design for its allied health and science building, and will go to the public with a bond proposal for funding this November.

    Similar to Skagit Valley College, Central Oregon’s ability to expand its nursing, allied health and science programs has been hampered by the limitations of current facilities. Yost Grube Hall and the Estimé Group of Portland, the laboratory planners, have teamed with Pinnacle Architecture of Bend on the design of the proposed 90,000-square-foot facility.

    Partnering with the St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, the college has been able to provide nursing and allied health students with practical experience. But with limited opportunity for this valuable field experience in Central Oregon, the college utilizes more simulation in its nursing lab. Simulation is accomplished with computerized mannequins that can produce real-life ailments and symptoms.

    The college also provides free dental service to the community one day a week in its dental lab. Local volunteer dentists work with students to provide basic dental care.

    However, with a current lab consisting of three chairs, only 12 to 15 patients can be helped a week, while the waiting list typically is 80 to 100. The proposed new lab will contain 12 chairs and will allow the college to quadruple the community service it provides.

    Central Oregon is currently in the process of exploring models of allied health and science education. In the next few months, a series of facility tours are planned to allow the faculty and design team to evaluate different teaching pedagogies and lab designs that will support them.

    Although the building is only in the conceptual design stage, the college and the design team have started reviewing sustainable options for the building systems, interior finishes and stormwater management. The state of Oregon has recently implemented a law requiring all state-funded projects to appropriate 1.5 percent of the overall construction budget toward solar applications.


    In Clackamas County, Ore., one of Portland’s fastest growing regions, the Oregon Employment Department is expecting a more than 22 percent increase in nursing and allied health-related jobs by 2012.

    To answer this demand, Clackamas Community College and regional health care providers formed a committee to analyze how to best serve these needs. The result is the recently completed 47,000-square-foot Center for Health Education located at Clackamas Community College’s Harmony Campus.

    The committee included Kaiser Permanente, Willamette Falls Hospital, Providence Hospital and Adventist Health. With input from these partners, the college’s nursing lab has been modeled after a typical hospital, with patient rooms located around a central nursing station. Two identical six-bed labs are joined by a central storage area and simulation control room to accommodate curriculum requirements of each health care partner.

    To accommodate growth and change, the design team established a planning module that would allow labs, classrooms, and offices to be interchangeable.

    A second planned building will be adjacent to the Center for Health Education, with connectivity provided by a sky bridge.

    Several programs in the new building will eventually move to this second-phase facility. The dental assistant and emergency medical technician labs have been designed so that equipment can be disconnected and moved easily.

    Through creative scheduling and interdepartment collaboration, a flex lab was also created to serve the needs of the microbiology, dental assistant and medical assistant programs. As programs grow, additional department-specific labs will be added, allowing the lab to be dedicated to microbiology.

    The Center for Health Education incorporates numerous sustainable features into its design. Exterior sun screens are combined with lighting control systems to conserve energy and maximize natural daylighting. Interior finishes and casework are constructed from sustainable materials with exposed concrete floors in public areas.

    Since the center is located adjacent to a county park, a rigorous stormwater management program was implemented, detaining and treating roof and surface stormwater in planters that are integrated into the design of the building.

    Mark Stoller is a project manager at Yost Grube Hall Architecture.

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