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A simulated environment—complete with a deck to replicate emergency patient intake—gives Kansas City University medical students a unique experience in education.

Designing to fit 21st century needs isn’t always about state-of-the art technology or having the newest gadgets. For some schools, it’s about the experience, the ability to simulate a real-world situation to better prepare students upon graduation—perfecting the physical space rather than the technology itself. That’s exactly what Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences set out to do with the design and construction of its Center for Medical Education and Innovation.

As the oldest medical school in Kansas City, Mo., the university needed a building that both accommodates modern technology and medical practices while transforming the campus and culture to change how students function and interact. Developing—and sticking to—a master plan ensured seamless integration of new buildings into the historic campus. Modern in its aesthetic and its function, buildings such as the skills lab add academic opportunity while providing new ways for students to interact and further create bonds that improve the culture of the school as a whole.

It's All About the Space

To achieve this, the client recognized that the space itself was paramount—the space inside the building and how it was configured as well the character it created outside of it to truly become the new epicenter of the campus. As a 21st-century building designed to accommodate the evolution of the learning environment, flexibility and future-proofing the building was vital. The space had to be flexible enough to promote learning and simulate real-world experiences—a contemporary approach to hands-on learning. Creating flexibility in utilization usually equates to more space, but that is not fiscally responsible from a design perspective. That makes it challenging to balance the TVD equation of square footage (program) and the finish (cost per SF). Educators can always fill empty square footage with more programs, but part of being innovative is challenging how the criteria is being taught and what is necessary or required. KCU recognized that having more space would be beneficial at this specific location, as evidenced by the inclusion in design and budget of a second-floor shell space for future use.

Focused on a simulation-based learning environment, the building must meet a specific set of requirements to meet the needs of every user training to become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). “Simulation spaces are very complex environments, needing to fulfill both complex medical and educational requirements, said Helix Architecture + Design Principal Bryan Gross, AIA, LEED AP. “In addition to all the medical equipment, medical gases, IT, lighting and environmental controls, a typical hospital emergency room, labor and delivery room, or surgical suite would contain, the spaces must also have a network of cameras, microphones, speakers, and audiovisual controls that allow educators to interact with the students and record their behaviors during the programmed simulations. This, of course, requires a great deal of intricate collaborative planning with specialized designers and engineers, as well as the educators and technicians that will be running the simulations.”

Aligning with the shift to more collaborative space in 21st century learning environments, the design calls for open spaces and features that were unique to KCU’s needs for flexibility in space and technology; this includes details from floor to ceiling. “To make the simulation deck as flexible as possible, it has a number of features that are derived from the theater world. A grid of pipes suspended from the structure above allows for props to be hung or special lighting to be placed wherever needed,” said Gross. Using an exposed pipe grid system on the ceiling puts space utilization in the hands of the users and allows them to change the layout depending on the day or need.

Flexible Space, Realistic Learning

The layout and detail that went into the planning and design allows users to not only simulate the physical treatment of patients, but it also gives them an opportunity to develop emotional intelligence that comes with practicing bedside manner. Featuring 22 patient rooms and a family lounge, students will be able to replicate difficult conversations with actors to give them a comfort level that acting out realistic scenarios provides. The room is configured in such a way that the viewing areas for teachers to observe their students are separate, allowing the scenario to play out as it would in a hospital.

Equally as realistic is the 2,100-square-foot simulation deck. Equipped with a sliding glass door and on-grade driveway for emergency vehicles, the configuration replicates patient intake and emergency triage. To accommodate such flexible, open spaces while creating nine classrooms, seven labs, one labor and delivery room, and one operating room, the design team had to get creative with design. “The pipe grid system coupled with an overhead network of electrical outlets, AV/IT connections, and medical gases that are on retractable cables or hoses, and floor boxes that also provide electricity and IT connections, the robust infrastructure allows the space to be easily adapted to almost any simulation scenario that can be imagined,” Gross explained. “The simulation deck also has a wall of sliding doors facing the adjacent quad, so the activities within the space can spill outside, or props like an actual ambulance can be part of the simulation.”

Focus on Student-Centered Learning

Yet another feature that strayed from traditional design and classroom configurations is the addition of learning stairs. Tiered seating and an amphitheater-style environment offer a creative option for multidisciplinary learning in a building focused on creating student-centered space on every floor. According to Gross, the multipurpose stairs are a crucial element to KCU’s desired outcome. “The stadium seating/stairs designed into the lobby of the building provides a flexible space that can be used for several purposes. On a daily basis, it will be used as a casual place for students to sit down between classes and talk or study, but there will also be occasions where the space will be used for more formal presentations to a large group of students. To allow for this second use, we designed room darkening shades for the surrounding windows, a large format projection screen, a drop-down projector and speakers throughout the space, as well as a place for a mobile podium to be plugged in at the head of the room with full AV controls.”

From top to bottom—and even the stairs in between—every detail and design decision was made with the end user in mind, transforming not only the way students learn, but also the mindset and culture of a university. Reflective of the school’s purpose, the south half of the building is mostly glass to showcase their core classes, represent transparency and connectivity along with providing an excellent facility for the students and teachers. Starting with a clear vision, KCU’s leadership assembled the right team of partners to bring that vision to life, keeping everyone pointed toward the goal throughout the process. The result was a state-of-the-art facility that mirrors the team and building—forward-thinking, inspiring, and life-changing. 

The Kansas City University Simulation Lab is scheduled to open Spring 2020.

Originally written for the August 2019 edition of Laboratory Equipment