New nursing building expected to open in March

When construction began a year ago on Tennessee Tech University’s School of Nursing and Health Services building, university officials hoped to begin 2008 by welcoming TTU’s nursing students into their new academic home.

While those New Year’s wishes won’t completely be realized, the most substantial portion of the construction process is complete, and the $17.4 million building is still expected to be open by March 2008.

One thing university officials haven’t avoided in anticipation of the new facility — the first built specifically for TTU’s nursing program — is the addition of more nursing students.

“Previously, we’ve been able to accept upper division pre-licensure students only once a year — in the fall — because of our lack of facilities, but the new building will allow us to double our enrollment by accepting upper division students twice a year instead,” Green said.

Approximately 120 freshman nursing majors enroll at TTU each fall, but by the time each class is ready to begin its junior year, the lack of facilities has forced that number to be whittled down to 48.

“Our first spring enrollment was last year, when we accepted a half-class of 24,” she said.

This coming spring semester will be the first to see a full class enrollment of 48, although courses for that additional class will have to be taught at temporary locations across campus until the building is completed in March.

“There has been a tremendous university-wide effort to support us until we get in the new building, and that support has really helped us meet the needs of our students during this transition,” Green said.

Once the transition is complete and the new building is open, its innovative features will include three computerized patient simulation laboratories, a 278-seat auditorium and an updated campus Health Services facility.

The focus of one laboratory is basic nursing skills, while the other two focus on critical care and women’s health nursing issues respectively.

“Each laboratory will have high-tech, computerized patient simulators that can be programmed to reflect the symptoms associated with any conceivable patient illness. NOELLE, one of the patient simulators for the women’s health lab, is even pregnant and capable of delivering her baby,” Green said.

Not only will such state-of-the-art features enhance learning opportunities for TTU’s nursing students, she added, but having a designated facility for the program will also enhance their sense of community.

“I’m very much looking forward to developing our program’s sense of community and identity,” Green said. “That’s something we haven’t been able to do very well for five or six years, since the program last had a permanent home.”

The program was forced to relocate to temporary facilities when its last permanent location — a building at the edge of campus that once housed an elementary school — was condemned several years ago.

With the move to the new building and the increased number of students and enhanced quality of education they will receive, the transition also means increasing TTU’s School of Nursing faculty by about 50 percent.

“We hired three new faculty members this fall, and we’re recruiting for four more who will be added in the spring,” Green said.

Located on 7th Street (which has recently reopened after being closed to traffic for several weeks) at the end of TTU’s Main Quad, the new School of Nursing facility will serve as “the gateway between the university and Cookeville Regional Medical Center” both physically and educationally.

The two institutions are growing simultaneously, with a major construction project at CRMC expected to be complete next fall, but each one’s facilities aren’t all that’s growing — a mutually beneficial relationship is too.

CRMC has long been an important clinical setting for TTU’s nursing students, and studies show that about half of all TTU nursing graduates get their first job following graduation at CRMC.

With life-long learning a university priority, TTU administrators hope to return the favor by using the new School of Nursing facility to provide continuing education opportunities to CRMC and Upper Cumberland area health care providers.

The facility will allow TTU to become a site for community medical and nursing continuing education programs on a nationally sponsored level — a need that can currently be met only as close as Nashville and Knoxville.

“There are three factors that have been shown to contribute to the national nursing shortage, and they are lack of physical facilities, lack of adequately prepared faculty and lack of clinical facilities, but the new building will help to minimize each of those factors on every level,” Green said.

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