Trustees approve site, concept for education center

Amy Feldman

The proposed Learning and Knowledge Center, to be built where Fairchild Auditorium now stands, is tentatively slated to open in 2009.

A new 120,000-square-foot building that will be the gateway to the School of Medicine and serve as the hub for all of its educational activities has won conceptual and site approval from Stanford University's Board of Trustees.

The Learning and Knowledge Center is designed to be a model, state-of-the-art center for medical education, with innovative classroom facilities, a major conference center and a largely digitized library that will give students the flexibility to study in various locations throughout the building. The building also will house a new Center for Immersive and Simulation-based Learning, a unique facility where students, residents and allied health professionals will be able to do hands-on learning in a variety of settings.

"The plans for the center look tremendous," Burton McMurtry, chair of the Board of Trustees, said after the trustees' meeting Oct. 11. "There was considerable excitement on the board about the facility. This is a very modern facility and a very flexible one and will enable us to do some things educationally that we haven't been able to do."

The new facility will rise on the site of the current Fairchild Auditorium and will include three floors and a "penthouse" level where students can study in a quiet setting with views of the hills. The building is expected to provide an identity and a "front door" for the medical school, whose current buildings date from 1959, when the school moved its campus from San Francisco to Palo Alto. If plans proceed as hoped, the school would break ground on the project in late 2007 and open in late 2009.

"As one of the leading research-intensive schools of medicine in the world housed on the campus of a world-class university, the Learning and Knowledge Center will serve as a portal and magnet for our students, post-graduate trainees, faculty and community," said Dean Philip Pizzo, MD. "It will be a center for learning and knowledge acquisition, for sharing and communicating ideas, and for developing a future generation of physicians, scholars and leaders. The Learning and Knowledge Center will help to transform the School of Medicine and the students and scholars who join our community for decades to come."

The building's basement floor, with windows to provide natural lighting, will house a conference center with a 350-seat auditorium and smaller rooms for breakout meetings. A variety of classrooms—from lecture halls to small-group discussion areas—will occupy the first floor, along with executive meeting facilities and a 24-hour study and coffee area.

The second floor will have dedicated space for the Knowledge Management Center, a 21st-century biomedical library with 90 percent of its core content available in digital format, said library director Debra Ketchell. Because so much information will be available electronically, the entire building will be equipped with spaces—comfortable chairs and tables in key areas—where students and faculty can access information, Ketchell said.

"We want content digital so that faculty, staff and students are not bound to any particular place—on or off campus—to access the information they need for research, patient care and learning," Ketchell said.

The third floor will house the new Center for Immersive and Simulation-based Learning, where students and even seasoned practitioners can test their clinical skills in a simulated operating room, emergency department, intensive care unit or other clinical setting.

In addition to the new structure, the project will include renovations to the existing Lane and Alway buildings. The Lane basement will house the remaining print collections of the library and the historical collection: rare manuscripts, doctors' instruments and other historical materials that have been locked away in storage. The first floor of Lane will be used for the dean's administrative offices and the graduate services program, while the Alway renovations will include an expansion of the medical school café and student lounge area.

Julie Parsonnet, MD, senior associate dean for medical education, said the project not only will provide tangible new space that will greatly enhance the education program, but also will stand as a strong statement of the school's commitment to education.

"It will focus people on what the school is about. Certainly research is important but fostering learning is the fundamental mission of every school," Parsonnet said.

She said the project will aid in the school's recruitment efforts. "Students want to come to a school where education is central. So it will definitely help in recruitment and will make learners at all levels, from graduate student through emeritus, more excited," she said.

The project also is expected to help satisfy the requirements of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting authority for U.S. medical schools, which has criticized the school in the past for its "inadequate facilities." School officials this week outlined plans for the building to LCME representatives, who are on campus to review the school's accreditation status.

Now that the trustees have given the go-ahead to the new facilities, the school expects to solicit proposals from architects in a design competition for the project, said project manager Maggie Saunders. Formal designs are expected to be presented to the trustees next summer, McMurtry, the board chair, said.

A rough estimated cost of the project is about $128 million, but that figure is subject to change. The project will be paid for through a mix of private contributions, debt and university resources.

"This is clearly one of the very top priorities for the School of Medicine," noted Doug Stewart, associate vice president of medical development and alumni affairs. "We appreciate that it's essential for the school's academic well-being, and we will be approaching many of our best friends, alumni and donors about the project."

The project will account for a portion of the square footage of academic construction allotted to the university under Santa Clara County's General Use Permit.