Cover Story: Growth Opportunity

SHP Moves Forward with Major Building Expansion

SHP Building

By Cary Estes

After years of having to hold some classes in off-campus hotels, the UAB School of Health Professions is about to receive a new form of room service. Plans are under way to add two floors to the SHP’s current four-story building. Construction could begin as early as this summer and should be completed no later than May 2013, according to Dean Harold Jones, Ph.D.

Jones says the expansion will provide desperately needed space for a school that has experienced considerable growth over the past decade. Since 2001, the SHP student population has increased from approximately 1,200 to 1,900, and the school’s research funding has nearly quadrupled from $3.5 million to $13 million.

“We’ve had this huge program growth in terms of students and research, but with really no additional space,” Jones says. “We’ve reached the stage now where the lack of space is becoming a significant hindrance to further growth.

“If somebody comes to me now and says they want to hire a new faculty member who is going to bring two or three people with them and a lot of grant visibility and an outstanding researcher, the question is, where are we going to put them? Or if we have an opportunity to build a new educational program related to some other discipline, where would we house them? Even though we may have the resources, we don’t have a place for it.”

A 21st Century Classroom

That should change with the building expansion, which will provide approximately 35,000 square feet of new space. Jones says the expansion will allow the school to consolidate all portions of the Department of Health Services Administration into one building. “They will finally be able to have a home together,” Jones says. “That’s a major part of the need for this expansion.”

The centerpiece of the $13-million project will be the Executive Learning Center. It will consist of a primary classroom of approximately 100 seats surrounded by several smaller rooms. Jones says the center probably will include a serving kitchen as well, because many of the groups that meet there will be taking part in all-day sessions.

“It’s going to be a very high-tech environment with the ability to broadcast using the most current electronic technology that is needed to be really first class,” Jones says. “We’re also going to try to build the space in a way that’s flexible so you can break the room down in different ways in order to be able to accommodate different needs.” The facility will include the ability to provide continuing education either on-site or delivered off-site through technology. “We’re really excited about how we’ll be able to showcase our expertise through that piece of the expansion. There’s really nothing else on campus like it right now,” Jones says.

In the past, the lack of available classrooms has proven to be especially detrimental to the school’s executive master’s and executive doctoral programs. While much of the work for those programs is done through distance learning, the students are required to meet in a class setting for eight consecutive days, and Jones says that often has been problematic. “It is incredibly difficult to try to get classrooms on campus for eight straight days,” he says. “That’s a total of more than four weeks a year that we need exclusive control of a setting. We desperately need a home for that.”

Lately, the programs have been able to secure a room in the School of Nursing building, but that is only a short-term solution. Before that, they usually had to meet in a conference room at an off-campus hotel, gathering together like a group of insurance brokers or real-estate agents.

“The most exciting part of the expansion is the creation of the Executive Education Center,” says Gerald Glandon, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Health Services Administration. “That is something we do not have now, and we expect it to be an attractive offering.

“We’ll have state-of-the-art technology. When we go to a hotel, we have to use whatever they have available, and we have to pay additional fees. For example, we do presentations using PowerPoint, so we have to have a projector and a screen. It’s $100 to rent a screen from a hotel. That doesn’t sound like much, but over a year you’ve paid for that screen many, many times over. If you have your own screen built into the wall, it will be paid for quickly. So it’s going to save us money and increase the quality of what we do.”

Strengthening Ties

In addition to the tangible value of cutting the costs of space and equipment rental, Glandon says there is an added value in making students feel like they truly are part of a campus environment. That is difficult to do when there are luggage carts rolling past the door and families with children stomping down the hall.

“We’ve had some people who graduated from our executive programs who almost never came on campus, so they never got the feel of it,” Glandon says. “This will give our students a better sense of being part of UAB and part of the college experience. When students graduate, you want them to have a sense of having gone to a university. I think that is an important part of the ongoing relationship.

“Our alumni support us in more ways than just financially—they also hire our graduates and sponsor residencies. All of that is a function of their loyalty and commitment to the program. We want the people currently going through the program to have that same sense of loyalty and commitment 10 or 15 years from now.”

Meeting in a hotel room also does not provide students with easy access to all the medical facilities available on the UAB campus. Glandon says it is important for his students to gain real-world experience in addition to their basic classroom work.

“This isn’t a pure academic program, it’s a practice. We’re training professionals,” Glandon says. “So not only do we have the classroom, but we also have great access to the UAB Health System here. I want to make it easy for us to go over and look at the ER, to tour the Women & Infants Center, to look at the Comprehensive Diabetes Center. Those types of clinical-delivery sites are what they’ll be working in, and they need to see that in operation. Having people right there on campus just makes a huge difference for us.”

Glandon says he also is excited about the prospect of having his entire department located in the same building on a single floor. Currently, people within the seven programs in his department are scattered on different floors and even different buildings. He says that makes it difficult to foster true communication between various members of the department.

“The time I get to spend with folks is proportional to their proximity to me,” Glandon says. “On the way to get water or coffee, I run into people and engage in conversation. Folks who are on another floor or in another building, I don’t see them as much. When I do, it’s not a casual encounter, it’s a formal encounter, which changes the nature of the communication.

“Good communication is important in a work environment, and the fact that we will all be together on one floor is really going to help us in that regard. It’s also going to help us collaborate across program lines within the department, which I think will have great long-term benefits. It’s really going to create a stronger bond among faculty within the department.”

Jones agrees. He points out that the health administration program was recently ranked seventh in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Despite its success, however, the program did not have a true home on campus.

“This will create a sense of place for our health administration program,” Jones says. “We think having a home for all the pieces to be together will create the opportunity for them to do some special things, just because of the synergy you get from having all these different groups seeing each other and talking with each other every day.”

Investment in the Future

On the surface, this would not appear to be the best of economic times to embark on such an expensive project. But Jones says the school has been slowly accumulating funds for most of the past decade in anticipation of the expansion.

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“We’ve consciously thought about the need of putting some money aside for this,” Jones says. “We’ve been able to put between $5 million and $6 million aside, even during this tough economy, by being really efficient in what we’re doing, and also because of the growth we’ve experienced.”

The rest of the money needed for the project will come from a $7-million bond that was passed by the Board of Trustees, Jones says.

“We had to show the Board of Trustees we have the money up front in order to get approval for the project as well as the bond,” says Jones. “However, the funds we are using from the school budget are typically used for recruiting new faculty, creating new programs, and student support. Without new dollars, the school will be cash strapped.”

The school plans to start a fund-raising campaign to help with the expense of the project. Jones says most of the money raised will be used to refurbish the school’s coffers, since the majority of the funds that the school has saved in recent years will go toward the expansion project.

“We are going to be really out there looking for philanthropic support for this to ensure the quality of programming offered by this facility,” Jones says “Even though we have some money internally set aside to help pay for it, when you use those dollars it takes away dollars that you can use to enhance your programs or start up new programs.

“Every dollar we can save through philanthropy, that’s a dollar we can invest in everything from student scholarships to new faculty to better equipment and technology for training our students. So there is a real need to bring dollars to the table to take advantage of new opportunities that will come up, dollars that won’t be there if we don’t replace them through philanthropy.”

The school is looking to raise approximately $6 million and put it back into its savings, says Katie Davidson Adams, the SHP director of development who will be leading the fund-raising campaign.

“This is definitely the most significant fund-raising project in the School of Health Professions history,” Adams says. “It’s going to involve everybody—alumni, corporations, foundations, even our students. We will have opportunities for classes to participate as a group. Where one person may not be able to give that much, as a whole class they may be able to raise more.

“But most of all we’re really going to be reaching out to our alumni. They’re the ones who have been through the programs and understand what the needs are to further someone else’s education.”

In the end, the expansion of the School of Health Professions building is merely the next physical step in an ongoing expansion of the school. The School of Health Professions building is literally growing up, and it is expected to lift all of its programs right along with it.

“We want to expand opportunities for our faculty, our staff, and, most importantly, our students,” Jones says. “By bringing our students into this type of facility, we’re going to be able to improve the quality of the education that they’re getting.”

“And this is going to allow us to take the expertise that we have within our school and amplify the value that expertise can provide to our community as a whole, through these executive programs and continuing education programs. We don’t have a facility that will support doing that now. This expansion will make all that possible.”