Inside a hulking old power station that once generated most of the electricity for Rhode Island’s capital city, University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College nursing students are just starting classes in modern simulation labs where they practice treating patients with emergency medical conditions.
PROVIDENCE — Inside a hulking old power station that once generated most of the electricity for Rhode Island’s capital city, University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College nursing students are just starting classes in modern simulation labs where they practice treating patients with emergency medical conditions.
This week, undergraduate nursing students from RIC introduced themselves to a “dummy” patient and began checking his vital signs, while RIC graduate student Jon Cerami sat behind a glass wall, directing what the patient told the students. Increasingly, Cerami offered clues that “Mr. Bennett” was struggling.
That talking mannequin, whose eyelids fluttered and would later close, told the students, “I’m really dizzy and itchy. I feel really weird. Something doesn’t feel right.”
While the students tried to deconstruct the dummy’s condition, construction work continued on the building’s upper floors, including two new levels added as part of the $220-million transformation of a building once dubbed Dynamo House, a nod by a prior developer to a nickname when the power station opened in 1903.
On Sept. 23, Brown University expects to unload 40 truckloads of new furniture as it consolidates 11 departments from seven Providence locations into the top 3½ floors of the six-story building now called South Street Landing.
Brown expects academic and research uses to fill the space those departments leave behind, said Russell C. Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy. That allows student expansion on College Hill while administrative employees move into the city’s Jewelry District, where the university has invested approximately $225 million.
Rhode Island’s newest higher-education facility is the largest current private construction project in Rhode Island. Rivaling South Street Landing in size and scope over the last two decades were the more expensive Providence Place mall and Rhode Island Convention Center in the 1990s.
The concept for South Street Landing developed more than four years ago, after Brown sought a student-housing developer to accommodate a need near its new medical school in a renovated jewelry factory.
Developer Richard A. Galvin, president and founder of CV Properties, of Boston and Southport, Connecticut, responded to Brown’s request. He and university leaders then developed the idea to convert the vacant power station at the corner of South and Eddy streets. Decommissioned decades earlier, the building had become a high-profile eyesore along the Providence River.
South Street Landing is also the first project in Providence nearing completion for a team connected to Wexford Science & Technology. That’s the Baltimore firm that continues negotiating with state leaders to build an innovation center a few blocks northwest, on a portion of vacant former highway land.
Wexford manages life-science and medical real-estate assets around the country, under contract by a real estate investment trust — Ventas, of Chicago — that became a significant investor in Providence this year.
Ventas bought the South Street Landing building, its new parking garage that CV Properties built and an existing office complex at 2 and 3 Davol Square for $151 million. And last September, Ventas acquired nearly all of Wexford’s medical and life-science assets around the country, for $1.5 billion in cash.
Now, where wind once howled through the massive window openings in the deteriorating power station, tall brick archways with new windows offer sweeping views of Providence. Remnants of the building’s past are on display: exposed pipes and a crane that once operated in the cavernous space that stored the coal to power the city.
On the ground floor, large concrete supports that once held up the building where electricity was spun now hold up what will be the seating area for a planned Dynamo Hall cafe, open to the public. The state’s Historic Preservation Commission required such preservation during a renovation that benefited from historic tax credits: $22 million federal and $27 million state.
Where graffiti once covered large swaths of indoor brickwork, blasting has erased puffy block lettering and cartoon-like characters.
On nearly every level, the universities have created the most open, accessible spaces near the windows, for students and employees.
City and state leaders had long hoped this project would serve as a catalyst of growth in the Jewelry District, since renamed the Providence Innovation & Design District. Throughout the work, which began in 2014, Galvin’s crew talked about their vision for the building.
In December 2015, Galvin’s superintendent on the project for Gilbane Inc., Bill Hinchey, pointed out missing floors to be replaced, steel trusses to be knocked down and load-bearing trusses to remain intact. He pointed out precisely where future nursing students would learn their trade in modern, simulated emergency rooms with the latest technology.
On Thursday, RIC’s simulation director Penni Sadlon guided Cerami to identify symptoms the “patient” would need to display so nursing students could recognize he was having a hemolytic transfusion reaction, a serious complication that can arise after a blood transfusion. But if they missed the clues, no harm would be done.
“This is practicing experiential learning in a safe environment,” Sadlon explained, before debriefing with the class. Student observations would help Sadlon’s team tailor their teaching methods to answer a central question: “What is the best way we can help this student so they have a solid foundation and can think critically in complex and stressful situations?”
As Sadlon reminded her students their “patient’s life is at stake,” some said they had been nervous, but the simulation was calmer than such a situation would be in a hospital setting, giving them opportunity to focus.
Welcome to modern nursing education. RIC classes began this week. URI begins Wednesday.
Related projects will soon surround South Street Landing.
This month, Wexford will start construction on two apartment buildings a stone’s throw away, said Michael Guglielmo Jr., Brown’s director of design and construction facilities management. The units will be available to the public, not just students.
Galvin’s CV Properties is turning its attention to the 195 land, where his firm expects to build an Aloft hotel next to Wexford’s planned innovation complex. On Friday, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wexford’s innovation center construction is also expected to begin this fall.
As Brown prepares to move 400 employees into the top levels of South Street Landing, Carey said the university is excited to fulfill its vision of revitalizing the city’s Jewelry District. Increased vibrancy in the neighborhood, he said, is “good for the city, the state and Brown.”