After two years of construction, the newest addition to the University of Texas Medical Branch has officially opened its doors.

Medical branch employees this week began moving into offices at the new Health Education Center, a 160,000-square-foot building at the intersection of 11th and Market streets in Galveston.

The $94 million building is the first new academic building built on the medical branch’s campus in 40 years, officials said.

“It’s amazing,” said Maria Garcia, associate director of business operations and among the first employees to move into her office this week. “The design of this building is gorgeous. I think the building has great aesthetics, it has great sunlight.”

The building was funded by $67.8 million in state money, and another $22.6 million in private fundraising.

The five-story building is essentially divided in half. The south side is a mostly traditional college building with classrooms and conference rooms, furnished with the latest technology.

The instructional area features little touches that connect the building with the city and the subjects being taught.

There are benches made of pieces of the Blocker Oak, a tree that was killed by Hurricane Ike’s floodwaters in 2008. An acrylic glass display features enlarged microscope images from the nearby Galveston National Laboratory.

Walking to the north side of the building, however, transports students into a setting they’ll become familiar with as they enter medical careers. There, the building is designed to be a simulation of a hospital. There are patient beds, an ambulance bay, surgical suites, even a nurses station.

Mostly unseen around those hallways are cameras that allow instructors to observe what their students are doing, and controls to change the types of scenarios students are responding to.

The design is meant to be as close to a hospital as possible. Medical branch students training in different disciplines, from nursing to surgery, will be using the new building, officials said.

“Being interdepartmental, with different departments that have to come here and play together, that’s kind of a new thing,” said Christine Hermes, theprincipal facilities project manager in the medical branch’s Department of Design and Construction.

The building is scheduled to be completely finished by the end of June, Hermes said.

Even though the halls of the building are mostly empty, some medical branch students already have started seeking out the new study spaces it offers.

On Wednesday, Natalia Gomez and two classmates had claimed a study room on the building’s second floor. All three are fourth-semester nursing students on track to graduate in August.

“We wish we would have gotten to use this more,” Gomez said. “It just looks really nice, and the study spaces we have now are really outdated. It sets a good atmosphere, and a good vibe.”

The building students had used for simulation training is the old Rebecca Sealy Hospital, the medical branch’s now-closed psychiatric unit.

“The simulation center now mimics a hospital room, but this looks like a hospital hallway, there’s a ton of rooms and it looks like the actual hospital environment,” said Amber Mills, another nursing student. “It gets you comfortable with the environment. I know a lot of students get intimidated just by the environment. Putting them in this and letting them see how things work will be super beneficial.”

The medical branch plans to move more staff members into the building in coming weeks. A grand-opening ceremony is planned for the fall.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


(1) comment

David Schuler

Congratulations to UTMB on their new beautiful building, and a thumb's up on their decision to hold the Grand Opening *after* the building is complete. City of Galveston, please note how this is done properly.

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