A massive project seven years in the making comes to fruition Friday with the unveiling of the University of Virginia’s new, state-of-the-art Student Health and Wellness building.
The 165,000-square-foot superstructure houses the four units previously located in the Elson Student Health Center: Medical Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Student Disability Access Center, and Health Promotion and Well-being.
The new center is located at the south end of Brandon Avenue, near its previous location.
On Friday at 5:30 p.m., the building will receive its formal introduction to the University community in a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring UVA President Jim Ryan.
Dr. Christopher Holstege, the center’s executive director, said his team, along with important input from student advisers, has been working on the project since 2014, taking ideas from other top-quality student health centers in the United States.
“I give Pat Lampkin [UVA’s recently retired vice president and chief student affairs officer] a lot of credit,” he said. “She’s the one who [originally] brought the units all together under this one … department, and the reason is they really need to work in a more collaborative fashion.”
Holstege used the example of treating concussions. “Medical Services wants to be aligned and other providers manage that. That’s also been aligned with the health system and how neurology wants it managed,” he said. “The students often need accommodations after a concussion and have to work with the Students Disability Access Center,” and may also seek support from Counseling and Psychological Services.
For UVA students, the new center provides full-circle service that Hostlege has said is “going to be cutting-edge.”
The four-story building is bathed in hues of slate, soft blue and natural wood and filled with natural light, which research shows is a significant mood-booster.
Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications.
“This is all part of a green street project,” said Jamie Leonard, the director of the Office of Health Promotion. “We are really trying to link the Lawn with the South Lawn and its green space,” she said.
“One of the goals for the building was to ensure the in- and outward feel of green space and natural environments. You’ll see a lot of the signage or the photos on the walls and things like that are of nature sources. Research shows if you can’t be outside, just even looking at nature or a photo of nature creates more positive well-being.”
Leonard said that’s another goal of the building: to create a space that increases students’ well-being.
“So, just by entering the building, the different design elements – whether it’s the lighting, the sound or the comfortable furniture – these elements are supposed to help physiologically change somebody as they enter into the building,” Leonard said.
“And then, of course, because these are college students, we are working on programming and to teach them about the different elements of well-being and how that impacts them.”
The new building is more than a home to the Student Health and Wellness Center. It is also, more generally, a new student center at UVA, with a lens on well-being. The center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, the remainder of the building will soon be open to students seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to midnight, using their student identification card. The building also boasts a new, underground parking garage that can be accessed from behind the building and will be connected to the ParkMobile app.
The first floor of the building houses several departments, including the Office of Health Promotion and Well-being, the Student Disability Access Center, the pharmacy and some new additions: a teaching kitchen, a wellness suite and two reflection rooms where students can relax in a solitary space on comfortable furniture.
The teaching kitchen rivals some home kitchens with things like restaurant-grade refrigerators and audio-visual equipment that shows above-head shots of cooking surfaces, much like programs on the Food Network. Up until now, nutritionists have had to conduct cooking classes in the medical center. Now, they have a state-of-the-art space.
The cooking program will evolve over time. Right now, the center offers basic cooking skills, like how to make meals with five ingredients or less. “We’re also looking at doing targeted programs,” Leonard said. For example, “we have students who have food insecurity and will oftentimes get their box of food, and it includes dried beans. But they have no idea what to do with them. So, how is it that by using certain spices or herbs, we can make these foods not only edible, but also tasty?”
Medical Services is located on the second floor of the new building. This is where students can come, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., for clinical care and preventive services. All students who have paid their comprehensive fees with their tuition are eligible for no-cost visits with providers. Students can schedule appointments on the HealthyHoos patient portal.
Third Floor: The New Home of the Department of Kinesiology
A second student lounge, designed for more introverted students or those seeking a quiet space, occupies a large space on the third floor. It is accented with comfy hanging chairs and soft sitting cushions and is the perfect place to decompress or study quietly.
Also on the third floor is the School of Education and Human Development’s Department of Kinesiology, which relocated from its former space in Memorial Gym.
The department has several laboratories, include ones focused on exercise and sports injury, gait and concussions.
“The department’s move into the new Student Health and Wellness Center creates a lot of great opportunities for us and really helps us in terms of advancing our research mission and our student outcomes mission as well,” Jay Hertel, chair of the department, said. “Having research space that’s actually designed for what we do, as opposed to where we kind of retrofitted into a 95-year-old gymnasium over the last few decades, really provides a great opportunity for us, and we’re really excited to partner with different groups around the University to advance research and education around physical activity, exercise science and sports medicine.”
The fourth floor of the new building is home to UVA’s Counseling and Psychological Services group, which offers services like discrete individual and group therapy, drop-in consultations and emergency and crisis services (in addition to sponsoring a new, free, 24-hour virtual mental health service).
Radiology and Research
“One thing I want to make sure we don’t miss is that radiology will be in the new building,” Holstege, the executive director of Student Health and Wellness, said. “So, we can do chest X-rays, we can do extremity X-rays. That’s a great change.” Previously, students would have to visit the medical center for X-rays.
Holstege said he is also excited about the new research space in the building and the possibilities it presents. “There’s space for doctoral students to work with us,” he said. “We have epidemiologists that already work with us on data, and we have clinical research space.”
For example, Holstege and Dr. Erik Houpt have a leading role in a in a new, national COVID-19 study for college students.
“We are hoping to really lead in the country in studying the student population, and that from the efforts we make with regard to wellness and health and accessibility, we can learn from that and publish [more findings]. We’re working closely with all the schools on this and with our doctoral students or undergraduate students. And our trainees in the health system are benefiting from this because they’re publishing on this.”
The conduit for this work is the Student Health Office of Research Excellence, which also is embedded in Student Health and Wellness.
“This is a pretty big deal,” Holstege said. “And truly, we are the only ones in the country doing this. We named it [the Student Health Office of Research Excellence] because we see it as the entity that really protects the students, but also is the liaison with all the other schools [around the country] that do research with student populations. So huge, huge potentials here.”
While furniture and some fine touches are still coming, the new Student Health and Wellness building is open for business and officials encourage students to take advantage of the services and new student spaces. Leonard said students can bus, walk, scooter or bike to the new space, just off Jefferson Park Avenue.
“We are excited to share this new space and all it has to offer with all of our students,” she said.
The building project team includes UVA’s Office of the Architect and UVA’s Capital Construction and Renovations, as well as VMDO Architects, Duda|Paine Architects and Barton Malow builders.
The late Richard Sergi was the construction administration manager of the project. Sadly, Sergi died last month after overseeing the work.
“Richard was integral in leading the construction team and bringing the building to completion,” said Amy Eichenberger, a senior project manager in UVA’s Capital Construction & Renovations division.
This article was originally published in UVAToday.