CHAMPAIGN – Some Parkland health professions students began learning this month in a brightly lit, newly remodeled space on North Mattis Avenue.
The building has comfortable classrooms, spacious labs, a kitchen, space for equipment used by occupational therapists, a room full of massage tables separated by curtains, and a hospital bed with an eerily realistic-looking patient.
"This is definitely a showpiece for health professions," said Rick Smith, who started the massage therapy program at Parkland.
It's a vast improvement for many health programs.
Previously, most classes were taught on Parkland's main campus. The occupational therapy and massage therapy students moved desks and chairs from classrooms into hallways so they could practice the techniques they'd use on patients. They brought any supplies they needed to the classroom with them.
After class, they'd move the furniture back into the classrooms, which might be used for math or English class next, and take away the supplies.
"It made instruction very difficult," said Bobbi Scholze, chairwoman of the health professions department.
The department's faculty played a central role in planning for the new space, Scholze said. They looked at their current and future needs, and those with sufficient space stayed where they were on Parkland's main campus. The others moved to the new "H" wing, which encompasses 21,000 square feet in the old K's Merchandise building at 1309 N. Mattis Ave., C.
The Parkland programs using the new space are those for teaching occupational therapy, massage therapy, certified nursing assistants, medical office assistants, phlebotomy, licensed practical nurses, emergency medical technicians, dietary technicians and dietary managers.
Nursing, surgical technology, dental, veterinary technology, respiratory therapy and radiology remain on Parkland's main campus.
Work began last June, and included framing walls, removing all the old mechanical equipment, and putting in new heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems, as well as electrical systems, said Jim Bustard, director of the Parkland Physical Plant.
The remodeled space includes green technology such as occupancy sensors to turn off the lights in a room when it is not in use. Each room has its own temperature control that is tied in with the occupancy sensor. When the room is not in use, the programmable thermostat automatically lowers the temperature to save energy, Bustard said.
Some of the flooring in the building is made from sustainable materials, and some of the ceiling tiles are bamboo. The cost of the remodeling project was $2.4 million.
Parkland's instructors helped design what the new space would look like, from the color of the floor tiles in an independent living center to the fabric used for curtains around the massage areas. They even came up with mock class schedules to see how they might work together across disciplines.
"Every detail you see was chosen by faculty," Scholze said. "It wasn't conceptualized by administrators. It was conceptualized by the people who live and work in the space."
The massage therapy program, in its seventh year at Parkland, had been housed in five different places before moving to the H wing, said Smith, who is retired but still teaches part time.
"There's no comparison," he said of the program's new space. "This is an amazingly beautiful, well-thought-out place."
One of the highlights is the independent living center with a kitchen, washer and dryer, and a tub, toilet and sink (although not hooked up to plumbing). The room will eventually have bedroom and living room furniture as well.
The kitchen is used by dietary students, but the entire room will be used by occupational therapy students to learn how to help patients adapt in a home setting. For example, how might they lift a heavy pot off the stove or a jug of laundry detergent to the washer?
It's a much better place to practice such activities than a regular classroom, said Rebecca Bahnke, director of the occupational therapy assistant program.
"We'd say, 'OK, pretend this is a stove,'" Bahnke said, indicating a table. "'Pretend this is a couch.' We had to do a lot of pretending.
"We're going to start mocking up situations where students use basic skills," she continued. "That's something we couldn't do if we're starting out with a desk and, 'Pretend this is a stove.' I'm so delighted to be able to have this. This is amazing."
She believes employers will notice an improvement in the skills of Parkland students.
The center will be used by more than just the occupational therapy students. Those getting EMS certification must know how to help someone who has fallen in the bathroom, for example.
"Everybody needs to be able to handle a client that begins to pass out and fall down," Bahnke said. "How to safely move them or not move them. How to break their fall."
Bahnke would like to have a clinic in the space for community members with physical limitations who need help with daily living skills.
The new H wing also has room for iStan, a computer-operated mannequin that can simulate various medical conditions. It is used to teach diagnostic techniques to students and the potential consequences of different courses of treatment. The iStan mannequin is being used for classes for the first time this semester.
iStan lies in a hospital bed, hooked to a machine showing his "heartbeat" and other vital signs. An operator sits in an adjacent room on the other side of a window.
Also new: Part-time faculty have a central office space in the H wing, near the offices for full-time faculty. Before, "Part-timers were in every nook and cranny, spread all over the place," Scholze said.
Now it will be easier for them to work together and with the full-time instructors, she said.
Smith said the new space gives a psychological boost to faculty and students.
"This gives us our first real home," he said of the massage therapy program. "It tells us, and I believe it tells the community, too, we're here to stay. I believe it will be very, very good for recruitment. Nothing compares to this."
Parkland College's new health professions wing will be open to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 6. The health professions area is at 1309 N. Mattis Ave., C.
The open house will include tours, a demonstration of the iStan mannequin, which can simulate illnesses and responses to medical procedures, and low-cost massages.
The event is free but reservations are requested. Those interested in attending should contact Jody Littleton at 353-2683 or firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 4.