ST. LOUIS • A $40 million face-lift for the St. Louis Community College campus at Forest Park is as much about function as it is about form.
Sure it’s about modernizing the campus that leaders joke looks as outdated as it feels, but it’s also about increasing the school’s capacity to produce more graduates in health sciences programs — an industry that’s starved for more qualified employees.
The so-called A and B towers on campus are coming down in favor of a modern Center for Nursing and Health Sciences building, which is slated for completion by summer 2019.
The towers will come down the following spring.
St. Louis Community College Chancellor Jeff Pittman hopes the project will reintroduce the Forest Park campus “in a way that may be as dramatic as when it was first built” in 1966.
The new, 96,000-square-foot building will house all of the campus’ health sciences programs, giving all of them state-of-the-art equipment and space designed to meet each program’s need.
These include a new, first-floor suite for dental hygiene and dental assistant students; a replica house setting for students pursuing a career in emergency medical services and fire protection; and dedicated space for nursing students’ skill laboratories.
It’s a far cry from the current setup for these programs, which are scattered through several buildings on the Forest Park campus.
The new building will be funded mostly through a $36.8 million bond issue, with remaining funding coming from other campus savings, including the forthcoming sale of the Cosand Center, which is the college’s downtown building.
Administrators at the downtown building, including Pittman, will move their offices to the fourth floor of the new building.
Health sciences programs enroll about 900 students, about 400 of whom are pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing.
Health Sciences Dean Bill Hubble said he expects at least an 8 percent to 10 percent increase in enrollment when the new building opens.
Many of these career pathways, like nursing and surgical technicians, have a 100 percent job placement rate.
The project is drawing interest from local employers, too, according to Pittman.
Pittman hosted several town hall meetings this summer to gather input from area health industry leaders into what the college was planning.
The input, he joked, was mostly “hurry up and build it.”
He needs them on his side. It’s impossible to expand some of these programs without local health care organizations being willing to provide more clinical training positions.
Aside from the fourth-floor offices, Pittman and his team are leaving the bulk of the new space flexible, letting industry leaders help them decide how to best use it.
If a hospital, for example, says it needs more nurses, then space could be geared toward that — such talks with employers are still in the early stages.
New front door
While this is Pittman’s first big project since taking the helm at the community college in 2015, he had experience with building projects as an administrator at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana. With that experience in mind, he and his St. Louis team considered opportunity for later growth after the Forest Park campus building is finished.
Unlike the A and B towers, which line up with the C and D towers straight through the middle of the campus, the new building will back up against Oakland Avenue and Highway 40 (Interstate 64).
After the towers come down in spring 2020, their footprint will become a larger quad area. That space also could offer room for future construction.
Pittman is the project’s biggest cheerleader, with Hubble and the faculty not far behind.
But the chancellor acknowledges criticism about changes to a campus designed by well-known modern architects Harry and Ben Weese, and landscape architect Dan Kiley, the designer for the original Gateway Arch grounds.
Pittman is convinced the new building, which will incorporate some of the brick to pay homage to the architecture of the rest of the campus, will compliment the work of the original designers.
Regardless, he said, something has to change.
During one of the town hall meetings he hosted, the lights went out while he was explaining the need for a new building. Pittman swears that wasn’t planned.
In addition to outdated working space, the A and B towers have an issue with water seeping in when it rains and some asbestos that will require abatement before the tear-down. Still, campus aesthetics are a critical part of the decision to build.
“It’s hard for me to use a descriptor for what it looks like now, though I’ve had several handed to me,” Pittman said. “They’re not exactly the most complimentary.”
From Highway 40 it can be difficult to pinpoint what that series of brick buildings are, he says. The new design will open up the campus from the north, creating a drive off Oakland Avenue.
“It will basically change the face of this entire campus,” Pittman said. “People are going to drive by, look at it and wonder what’s going on in there? It’s going to create a front door to the campus, which I think is greatly needed.”