As its three sprawling floors received a polish last week, Lower Columbia College’s new health and science building sat quietly in the sun as the airy halls and advanced classrooms awaited their first quarter, coming this fall.

More than a dozen labs soon will be stocked with millions of dollars of equipment, and the flexible, tech-friendly classrooms bathing in natural light soon will see as many students in them as will be in the open common areas and on the rooftop patio.

“It’s going to be a big draw,” LCC President Chris Bailey said. “One of the ideas of recruitment is students come onto a campus and they get a feel of whether it’s right for them, and this certainly helps us in terms of our marketability.”

At a cost of $38.5 million, the building is a major stake in LCC’s nursing niche and a testament to the college’s growth and increased focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“There’s not a lot of higher education entities around us, so it’s really important we’re state of the art and we’re providing for this region,” Bailey said.

And the nearby two-year schools are providing some competition: Centralia College in 2009 opened a new science center and Clark College in the process of designing a similar building in Vancouver.

A report by the state nonprofit Washington Roundtable said that turning out more skilled workers could add 160,000 new jobs by 2017 — 90 percent of them in STEM and health care.

“LCC has been working hard for the past decade to prepare a greater number of adults for jobs in healthcare and in STEM fields because projected job growth is in healthcare and science fields — and also to build a skilled workforce for our local economy,” said Sue Groth, LCC’s director of college relations and marketing.

Nursing competes only with transfer degrees as the most popular program at the school, so it made even more sense that LCC would find room for a few hospital beds.

The entire second floor is set up for health care majors, and the big-scale labs will feature new simulation technologies and modern equipment alongside patient beds.

“It’s meant to perfectly mirror a clinical environment,” said Wendy Hall, LCC’s director of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment.

It took 12 years to secure money from the legislature to get the building off the ground, longer than the normal decade due to the recession.

“Capital funding for Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges is limited and must come from the Legislature, so it takes time for each campus to get its turn for funding,” Groth said.

The campus’ new shoes have new laces, too, as state-of-the-art equipment will deck the rooms thanks to an $845,000 grant secured in May and matched by the LCC Foundation. That grant was a difficult two-year process, Hall said.

The third floor will showcase a lot of that hard work, as the chemistry and biology rooms have more hoods — vents for working with chemicals — in some classrooms than the college ever had before.

“I don’t think we had 10 hoods on the whole campus and here we have 10 just in this room,” Bailey said in a chemistry lab. “It allows students to work, they don’t have to trade off and it’s more efficient for instructors.”

And probably the biggest draws of the third floor are the living roof — a heat-saving garden surrounded by a collection of bistro-style tables and chairs — and the cadaver room.

“Most community colleges don’t even have one cadaver, and we have two,” Bailey said.

Back on the first floor are five general-purpose classrooms, each with moveable and stackable furniture fitting up to 50 students easily. Most classrooms on campus were designed for the 25 to 30 range, Bailey said, but growing enrollment over the years leads to bigger classes.

Near the earth sciences labs on the ground floor is a monitor of the solar power being generated on the roof, which Bailey said will account for up to 20 percent of the building’s needs.

And then there are the big spaces, like the 80-person classroom with stepped seating.

“We don’t have a lot of space like that where we can have staff and faculty meetings, and it gives us that opportunity and gives the community that opportunity as well,” Bailey said.

Then there’s the rounded 143-seating geometric anomaly very noticeable from the parking lot outside, tall and acoustically sound as a concert hall, with a balcony to boot. And like many of the multi-purpose rooms, it will be available for outside groups, lectures or events.

“We really have the intent of making this a community resource,” Bailey said. “Our STEM projects are going to be here with elementary, middle and high school students.”

The spacious and soft-feeling construction is done, and now its seemingly endless storage space just needs to be filled with equipment and supplies. That, and the students and faculty to use them.

“This building really changes every time I come in here,” Bailey said.

Brooks Johnson covers Longview city government, Cowlitz PUD and Lower Columbia College for The Daily News. Reach him at 360-577-7828 or bjohnson@tdn.com.

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