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Whatever it took (New SON Building)

Steel frame of VUSN building at dusk

Steel frame of VUSN building at dusk. Photo by Keith Wood

The School of Nursing building owes its existence to the 2008 Great Recession. Then-Dean Colleen Conway-Welch and her team knew that the school’s growth would require expanded space for teaching, faculty offices and clinical training. She knew just where to get it: add two floors on top of Patricia Champion Frist Hall, which had been designed for just that. The architectural plans were ready — all that was needed was the go-ahead from Vanderbilt’s administration. Then the recession hit and the decision was made to hold off until a better economic environment.

By 2016, however, the need was extreme. Godchaux, Frist and the Nursing Annex buildings were packed. The Clinical Placement office had to be located off campus, along with the faculty and staff of the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty. Some researchers were working blocks away in Vanderbilt’s Sony building. Dean Linda Norman had discussed the need with Vanderbilt administration and the plans for two floors on top of Frist were brought out. Evaluating them with eyes focused on growth and technology, however, it was clear that adding two floors to the existing building was not going to be sufficient.

Touring the school’s buildings and area with representatives from Campus Planning and design firm Hastings Architecture, Norman brought them to the 21st Avenue South side of Frist Hall and showed them a small, irregularly shaped V of land where Frist and Godchaux were joined by a one-story enclosed lobby. “What about this?” she asked. “Can you do anything with this?”

The architects came back with plans to replace the lobby with a four-story atrium and construct a five-story expansion that would fill in the area between Godchaux and Frist.

Excavation pit for VUSN building 2017

Excavation pit for VUSN building 2017

“No one ever told us the challenges we’d have setting up a construction site right in the middle of three buildings in use 12 months a year,” Norman said. “We had jackhammering outside classrooms, sparks from welding flying right outside offices and bulldozers clearing rubble next to where students were walking to class. Our students, faculty and staff were nonchalant — all of us had the same view: We’d do whatever it took to get the new building built in the timeliest manner.”

The project hit other challenges. Getting permits when needed was difficult with city offices backlogged by Nashville’s building boom. Excavation revealed pipes, cables and fiber-optic lines that lay in the building’s path. A planned weeklong power outage necessary for the electrical system had to be postponed for months when it was discovered that a crucial piece of equipment needed to be replaced beforehand so that neighboring Medical Research Building III could remain operational.

Even with those challenges, the project was on track to have the new building’s third-floor Skills and Simulation Lab open for the start of classes in August 2018. Then another unexpected obstacle beyond the contractor’s control arose. When it came time to tie the building’s water and steam lines into the existing ones, it was discovered that the existing lines weren’t buried where campus plans said they were. The new building’s lines would need to make a dogleg to connect to their actual location — and that would require custom-made parts that would take more than six weeks to create and deliver.

To everyone’s disappointment, the move into the new building would be postponed. While the work on the lines was underway, the school’s staff refined plans to move furniture and people into the building in stages.

Furniture started arriving in October. A temporary occupancy permit was received. Faculty and staff began moving into the new building in stages. By the end of the year, nearly everything was in place. Once the building passed fire inspection, it was ready to officially open on Tuesday, Jan. 22.



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