USD Med School opens brand new wing

USD Med School opens brand new wing
When she walks through the new east wing of the Lee Medical Building, University of South Dakota professor Robin Miskimins looks forward to all the things that probably won't happen.

Those things include major power outages, fire hazards, overheating of temperature-controlled rooms and the need for better security features.

"In the old building, we were really lacking in electric power and in ventilation. We had a huge equipment load and a building that was never built for a normal scientific load," she said. "We were running wires everywhere. We had so many extra wires that it was generating heat, and we needed to maintain a constant temperature."

With those safety issues out of the way, teaching and research have become much easier for Miskimins and others at the Sanford School of Medicine on the USD campus.

The new facilities include more square footage, but more personnel in turn are moving into the building from other sites, Miskimins said. "We don't gain that much extra per office. We have more space but more people using that space," she said.

"The east wing still has small issues, and we are continuously resolving them. It helps to have patience and flexibility," she said with a laugh.

The construction project is greatly needed, said Ron Lindahl, executive dean of the medical school and dean of the biomedical division.

"The oldest parts of the current building were constructed in 1952. The newest parts are more than 30 years old," he said.

A quick survey of students, staff and researchers during a tour showed quick agreement on the need for the new structure.

The women said they helped make the move from the west wing to the new east wing. They are adjusting to the facility changes in phases but noted one architectural change – the old Lee Medical Building was long and horizontal, while the new facility's multiple stories run skyward.

Down the hallway, computer work commanded the attention of graduate students Jodi Lukkes of Mitchell, Connie Mark of Exeter, NE, and Kyle Kappeler of Aurora, CO. Large windows provided late-afternoon light on their work.

Kappeler quickly noted the additional room in the new wing. "Before, it was cluttered (in the old facilities)," he said.

Lukkes agreed. "It's nice. It's open lab spaces. We have better lighting and temperature control," she said.

Miskimins admitted the moving process was an adventure. When the old east wing was torn down, everything was moved – and jammed – into the west wing. Now, the time had come to move everything to the new east wing in preparation for the upcoming demolition of the old west wing and construction of the new west wing and atrium.

The catch was creating the least down time so classes and research projects were disrupted as little as possible, Miskimins said. She worked for a month to prepare for the move, which was accomplished during the week between Christmas and New Year's. The new wing needed to be completed for the Jan. 8 start of classes, she said.

"We contracted with medical students to help pack, and the Department of Corrections (inmates) moved the packed boxes that did not contain anything hazardous or sensitive," she said. "The Analytical Instruments firm from Minneapolis helped move and refurbish equipment. It was a ton of equipment, but we moved out of the old building in nine days."

Lindahl, who noted associate dean Steve Waller was also part of the on-campus process, said he marvels at the seamless transition. The move affected 28 labs, nearly three dozen faculty, about a dozen staff members and scores of students.

"It was all done in three weeks, start to finish," Lindahl said of the move from one wing to another.

All parties have had to stay in continuous contact on the project, Miskimins said. "Communication is such a key, and things like e-mail really help. We have to stay in constant touch with people, like the contractors and electricians, and a lot of sites," she said.

This semester, the wing holds 100 students and uses two temporary classrooms and a temporary gross anatomy lab, Miskimins said. This fall, the building will hold 180 students, she said.

Physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant students are currently using Julian Hall but will move when the Lee Medical Building project is done, Lindahl said.

The project has not been an overnight success, Miskimins said. Planning began with a 14-member committee in 1999, leading to final approval from the Board of Regents, she said.

"We have been through the project for so long that's it's anti-climatic," Lindahl said. "For the students and faculty, it's a big event. For us (on the planning committee), it's an evolution."

The new facilities will not only serve current students but hopefully attract new students, Lindahl said.

"We have classes of students who have lived and worked in the old building," he said. "After they have worked and studied in this new facility, they will go home and tell potential students, ?You should be in the new medical school building.'"

The new east wing represents the first phase of the new building totaling 157,000 square feet. The west wing and atrium are scheduled for March 2008 completion in conjunction with the Medical School's 2007-08 centennial.

The new building consists of two three-story wings and a basement connected by a three-story atrium. The east side provides 83,170 square feet for graduate education and research. The west side for medical education will cover 73,830 square feet.

"The 30-foot atrium will hold 300 people. This would be the second largest auditorium on campus, behind Slagle," Miskimins said. "The atrium will provide the needed space for receptions and other events. We are planning on it for the centennial."

The new facility will replace the current building of 102,000 square feet and another 20,000 square feet elsewhere in Vermillion, according to USD officials.

The new Lee Medical Building will exert an impact far beyond the 200 medical students, Lindahl said. The Division of Health Sciences includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant, alcohol and drug abuse studies, nursing, dental hygiene, social work and medical technology.

"There are an estimated 1,400 to 1,500 students who are in or aspire to be in the health-related programs. That accounts for about 20 percent of all USD students," he said. "There are 800 to 1,000 undergraduates a year who will use the new building for their core courses, nursing classes or other needs."

USD received Board of Regents approval for the School of Medicine building project in May 2004. The architectural firm of Koch Hazard Baltzer of Sioux Falls was selected as the project architect. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held June 25, 2004, but preliminary work began before then.

Delays have put construction six months behind schedule, but Lindahl said he looks for the contractor to make the completion date. In turn, faculty and staff are planning a March 2008 move into the west wing, Miskimins added.

The $37 million construction project was made possible with major financial support from around the nation, Lindahl said. The $37 million includes $12.5 million each from the state's Higher Education Facilities Fund (HEFF) and private funds through Campaign South Dakota. In addition, the project has received $8 million in federal funds and $1.8 million from the Legislature.

Of the $12.5 million in private funds, lead gifts came from Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, Avera Health and Rapid City Regional Hospital, Lindahl said. Other major donors were hospitals, clinics, health facilities and regional medical centers, he said.

The South Dakota congressional delegation is working to obtain the final $2 million to cover additional costs, Lindahl said. The appropriation will not become available this fiscal year as hoped, but Lindahl said he remains optimistic the funding will come next year.

"The good news is that the vast majority of the money is for classroom and office furniture, which is part of Phase II," Lindahl said. "The money isn't needed until sometime in spring 2008, near the end of the project."

The new building has been built for flexibility and should meet needs for another 50 years, Miskimins said. However, she noted the Legislature and Regents have discussed increasing the current 50 medical students per class to 60 or 65 students. First- and second-year students remain on the Vermillion campus, while third- and fourth-year students gain clinical experience on campuses in Yankton, Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

"We would be pushed to 130 medical students (at Vermillion), along with the other students. It would be a significant increase," she said.

The push for larger medical classes is more the result of the state's growing needs than of the new USD facility, Lindahl said.

"It's all about better dealing with the professional shortages. We are not meeting the demand as baby boomers age over the next decade," he said. "There is a need for all health care professions, including social workers, occupational therapists, nurses and dental hygienists The consensus of everybody over the next decade needs to be how we address the shortages.

"These (medical school) improvements are an investment in South Dakota's health care and our future physicians and health professionals," he added.

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