Thomas Jefferson University’s new College of Nursing campus, just outside of Philadelphia, PA is nearing completion for the fall semester. Documentation for the 43,000 square-foot fast-track project started in November of 2019. Bidding and construction commenced just three short months later in February 2020, just as Pennsylvania and the world went into quarantine and isolation from the COVID-19 virus. A special exemption from the Governor allowed construction to continue. No one wanted to delay these nurses from getting to the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
No one could have anticipated the disruption COVID-19 would have on our society. It has affected every aspect of business, education, and life as we know it. Construction came to a halt, except for those projects deemed necessary and critical, and jobsite safety protocols instantly changed. In addition to all the safety-focused and safety-first measures the contractor enacts, they were now faced with an invisible perpetrator on their job site. The Norwood Company, the general contractor for the project, quickly enacted a new set of COVID-19 job site safety protocols. First, access to the construction site was limited to one point of ingress and egress. A nurse was employed full time to monitor the entrance and take the temperature of every person entering the site. Every person had to complete a health screening questionnaire and confirm any recent travel. If you passed the screening, you received a colored bracelet to wear during your stay on the job site in addition to your mask.
As an architect and designer, you try to anticipate the needs of your clients and provide thoughtful design solutions. You hope that your experience will answer the questions before they’re even asked. Public safety is always at the forefront of our designs. The building codes we follow provide direction and requirements to keep the public safe within a structure should it experience an event; however, COVID-19 has forced a shift in the conversation.
Thomas Jefferson University is addressing COVID-19 safety protocols throughout its system. For the College of Nursing specifically, this means: additional hand sanitizing stations, physical separators at all student interface stations, employing social distancing protocols in all spaces and COVID-19 signage throughout the facility. Mechanical system filters are being upgraded to provide better air quality throughout. Furniture fabrics were selected to withstand additional cleaning measures and more aggressive cleaning solutions. As a health professions education facility, there were already many safety considerations in the design. Gloves and masks are standard procedure when interfacing with patients; even in a simulated setting they are located throughout the facility. Students will learn at surgical sinks within the simulation labs about how to wash their hands correctly to prevent the spread of disease in a clinical setting. Flexible classrooms, sometimes used for CPR training, are large enough to accommodate socially distant seating arrangements.
The Thomas Jefferson University College of Nursing has been a fascinating project to guide during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many ways, this project was prepared to face the new normal. In other ways, like all of us, it has adjusted to face the challenges ahead. The architecture and design for this project supports a nursing program that markets itself as “reimagining, transforming, and disrupting the way nurses lead and impact society”. I witnessed the tenacity, positivity and resiliency of the talented nursing educators leading this project. They see the need, make the change and move onto the next challenge. I think we can all learn from their example.