Cape Fear Community College’s newest and largest facility will open its doors to students later this week.
Work has wrapped up on Union Station–a 250,000-square-foot academic and administrative building on the northern side of the downtown campus–in time for the start of the fall semester Friday.
The five-story, $54.5 million building on the corner of Red Cross and Front streets provides additional space–36 total classrooms and labs–for Cape Fear Community College’s (CFCC’s) overcrowded health sciences programs. Union Station’s anticipated opening allowed the college to double its existing nursing program from 90 available slots to 180 in the upcoming semester.
The facility will also serve to consolidate student services in a centralized location and will house administrator and support staff offices.
“The students are going to be blown away,” CFCC Public Information Officer David Hardin said. “We don’t have anything like this right now on campus.”
Union Station has been built with state-of-the-art simulated operating and emergency rooms–complete with computerized interactive dummies as “patients”–and control rooms where instructors can observe students while they practice procedures.
“Hands-on training is critical to everything we do at the college,” Hardin noted.
Denise Gautsch, program director of surgical technology at CFCC, agreed.
“This is a real setting. Everything is functional, so when we do mock sessions for training it is just like what they will be doing on the job. This is exactly what you would see in a standard operating room,” Gautsch said. “I’m excited. It doesn’t get any better than this for training.”
The operating room, she added, was modeled in shape and size after those at Dosher Memorial Hospital in Southport.
CFCC had previously partnered with New Hanover Regional Medical Center to use some of the hospital’s older operating rooms for instruction.
Union Station also includes computer labs and labs for biology, chemistry and anatomy. A 1,200-space parking deck has been constructed behind the building.
And the new facility provides space for financial aid, veteran affairs, career and testing offices, student activities and counseling to operate under one roof.
Hardin said in addition to administrative offices, the top floor features a conference suite with an open-air terrace that overlooks the Cape Fear River and downtown Wilmington. Businesses and community organizations will be able to rent those facilities.
While classrooms and labs will open Friday, college personnel will gradually move into the building in phases over the next month.
Construction on the site began in January 2011. CFCC president Dr. Ted Spring said the building was designed as a tribute to the early 20th century building, the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot, that stood at the same location until the 1970s.
“It was part of our vision,” Camellia Rice, vice president of business and institutional services, added. “The City of Wilmington was also interested in preserving the history. We wanted to make it look like the original.”
The old railbed that once ran behind the site has been transformed from a neglected section of downtown overgrown with weeds into a pedestrian walkway, which will eventually feature an outdoor amphitheater and an exhibit in honor of Atlantic Coast Line.
A grand opening ceremony is planned for later this fall.
Union Station is the first of three major building projects included in a $164 million bond referendum approved in 2008.
Construction is currently underway on the remaining two facilities–the Humanities and Fine Arts Center downtown and the Advanced and Emerging Technologies Center at the North Campus in Castle Hayne.
Hilary Snow is a reporter for Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.