This past Monday, it was dark, gloomy and raining outside, but inside everything was bright. The Grand Opening of the new building of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University was spectacular. For the first time in its history, the medical school has a home of its own, and what a home. Located off College Hill in the Knowledge District of Providence, it is next to research buildings, close to the major hospitals and less than a mile from the main campus. The building itself is a 134,000 sq. ft. restoration of a historic factory that for decades produced costume jewelry for the world. The old economic strength of Providence- jewelry manufacturing – is being turned into the new strength of Providence; medical education, research, health care, and biotech.
The opening day was special. Our first year students had orientation the previous week and lectures on the morning of the 15th. At noon more than 300 people crowded into the atrium including students, faculty, our elected officials, community leaders, residents of Rhode Island and members of the media. One of the most important parts of the proceedings was honoring our donors, particularly The Warren Alpert Foundation which contributed $25 million, of their total $100 million gift, towards the $45 million budget. Many other alumni, parents, friends and foundations also made the building possible.
Our federal delegation as well as the mayor and governor were in attendance and each made pithy comments. Most moving was Jenna Lester, a second- year medical student who described how thrilled she was to be in the building. At the end, President Ruth Simmons and I took gigantic scissors and cut the ribbon to open the building officially. It was a wonderful feeling for everyone to have accomplished a long-standing goal that is so important.
Our students, not to mention myself, are ecstatic about the new facility. As you come into the building you enter a large atrium that stretches from one side of the building to the other. There are large staircases going to the second and third floor. One half is covered by glass and one end is all glass giving an amazing feeling of height and light. The decor includes beige tile, wood, steel, and glass.
There are two state-of-the-art auditoriums that each hold 150 students and have the latest audio visual equipment. They even have natural lighting. A cafe on the first floor, Bagel Gourmet, is open from 6:30 am until 10:30 pm and serves not only the students but the public as well. Three case study rooms on the second floor seat 60-75 students. Two have an amphitheatre design that allows close interaction with students and instructors for specific demonstrations. The second floor also has three academies, each having offices for physician and staff advising, lockers, beautiful, large lounge space, and a coffee bar and kitchen for student use. Students are assigned randomly and will spend the next four years in the academies. The academies allow interactions with a smaller group of colleagues, common study and social space, and a sense of home during the rigors of medical school.
On the third floor, there are new anatomy laboratories which are spectacular. Each academy has a large bay assigned to them where 40 students will be working. The three bays are connected and instructors can move between them to answer questions. Lighting, computer connectivity, ventilation and natural light are all first rate. On the other side of the atrium there are some of the 16 seminar rooms designed for 10-12 students and their instructors. Small group learning and problem based learning will be centered here.
One part of the third floor consists of a large clinical skills area with 16 office suites. Students will practice their history taking and physical exam skills on standardized patients who have been trained to act like real patients. The suites will be fully equipped and in addition will have video capacity so that instructors can view the students in action and review with them afterwards. These rooms will also be used to test students during their clinical years and at the end of medical school. In the future we are planning a terrace on the fourth floor overlooking the city, College Hill and the Providence River. There is also room for a large fitness center with a great view.
Overall, the building has applied for gold LEED certification, sets a great example for the community, was finished in 16 months and came in under budget.