The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 27, 2013

Facility a boost for UPJ nursing program

Justin Dennis

JOHNSTOWN — Dozens were in attendance Friday as Pitt-Johnstown officially opened the doors to its new Nursing and Health Sciences Building. The $12 million facility is the latest in the university’s more than $40 million campus renovation and construction projects.

The 26,000-square-foot building is located next to the Engineering and Science Building. It houses 11 chemistry and biology laboratories, one nursing simulation laboratory, six faculty offices and two seminar classrooms.

It is expected to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

In his dedication speech, President Jem Spectar acknowledged the local and state funding efforts that contributed to the price tag, including $300,000 from the Johns-

town Educational Foundation and $4 million from the commonwealth.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, spoke about the return on investment that the program, founded in 2009, and it subsequent graduating classes will provide.

“This investment will outlive me and it will outlive everybody in this audience. It will pay its dividends far more than $4 million dollars,” he said. “Every student that will be graduating from here with a nursing degree has a very good chance of having an excellent, successful career that pays well.

“And you’ll pay it back because you’ll pay your taxes. And that will be class after class after class.”

The first class of 22 nursing students graduated in April. Currently, the university’s nursing program is at capacity with 160 students enrolled. Spectar said the university’s rate of expansion comes with a unique perspective.

“Someone reminded me earlier today that exactly 46 years ago, buildings were dedicated on this campus – in 1967 – and the total cost of the campus was $8 million. Time flies, right?” he said of the new $12 million facility.

“The building is nothing without the students whose dreams and aspirations make it come alive.”

Nursing program sophomores Amber Blefko, of Hummelstown, and Courtney Bridge, of Ligonier, said their chosen field will allow them much lateral mobility after college.

“It’s so broad that I can do anything with (my degree), basically,” said Blefko, who was job-shadowing at Hershey Medical Center when she decided nursing was right for her.

Sophomore Lauren Steffen said she feels many students will be thankful for and invigorated by the new space.

“Between Blackington Hall and (the Engineering and Science Building), it was very crammed.

“The space was not very efficient for the types of things we were doing,” she said.

Bridge said nursing classrooms were spread across campus and had few special accommodations – they weren’t designed with such a wide-ranging program in mind.

“Our simulation lab, where we have the patient mannequins – it was just one little room and it had all of the beds real close together,” Bridge said.

“We would have 10 people per lab and our (lab times were staggered) so we could fit everyone in. And, it was pretty tiny.”

Lack of ventilation made cadaver examinations a nose-burning experience. New vent hoods will draw chemical odors out and simulation labs with one-way mirrors will allow instructors to supervise students’ work during competency exams.

“It’s uplifting. It’s exciting. I think everyone’s excited just to see where this program could essentially go in the future,” Steffen said.

“I think it’s a great feeling for everyone just to be in a new environment.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on‚ÄąTwitter at