U. nursing school to disperse for remodel
Renovation » College seeks to address nurse shortage
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In the lobby of the University of Utah's College of Nursing is a statue that commemorates a time when the world really needed nurses. Carved in Portuguese rose marble, Florence Nightingale raises a lantern as she holds her medical charts.

This week, however, she will be sent to storage while the U. embarks on a $23 million project to further Nightingale's mission. Next month, the college's five-story home will commence a renovation, displacing all 175 faculty and staff. Major goals are to expand graduate programs, update the 40-year-old building and create a state-of-the-art learning environment, officials say.

Utah is not only experiencing a shortage of nurses, but bracing for a severe shortage of nursing faculty, according to dean Maureen Keefe.

"The faculty are baby boomers so they are retiring. We're losing faculty at the very time we need more. It's a tight, tight market," Keefe said. "We know one-third will retire in the next five years. That's a national trend that Utah is mirroring."

Today, the dean will join other U. officials in ceremoniously bubble-wrapping the statue of Nightingale, the high-borne British woman whose care of soldiers wounded in the 1854 Crimean War helped establish nursing as a profession.

Keefe described the renovation as "a huge social experiment" because it is the first time the university will turn out an entire college for a building makeover. Most of the faculty and staff will work out of the Royal Wood Office Plaza in downtown Salt Lake City, while another 45 faculty will telecommute from home and the rest will work out of satellite offices at Research Park and the U.'s health sciences complex -- at an estimated cost of $1 million. Keefe hopes to move back in by fall 2010.

"We see it as a transition, not a change. It's been our geographic placeholder and a good sheltering place for us," said Stephanie Richardson, a professor of nursing who has taught at the U. since 1986 and chairs the college's division of acute and chronic care. "It's the memory, not the thing, that's important. The building will be more healthy. ... We are working hard to make sure the students are not discommoded. We have a commitment to them."

The building will receive a seismic retrofit, asbestos abatement and new mechanical systems. The first floor will gain 10,000 square feet to "create a virtual hospital teaching environment," Keefe said.

The college has more than 600 students, about evenly divided between undergraduates and graduates. While undergrad enrollment has risen 25 percent in recent years, graduate enrollment has remained flat, even though the U. is the only Utah institution that trains faculty qualified to teach at the state's nine nursing programs.

The upgraded nursing building will be named for Annette Poulson Cumming, a Salt Lake City family planning advocate and community leader who graduated from the program in 1968. Her family donated $5 million toward the renovation, designed by the Salt Lake City firm DSBS Architects.

bmaffly@sltrib.com