Building a Home For Health

If you’re looking to find beautiful views at Mason, it’s hard to do better than the perspective from atop Merten Hall, the main administration building on the Fairfax Campus. And if you happen to be there any time this winter or spring, and gaze just to your right, you’ll be rewarded with a view that is . . . quite frankly, a mess. What was for years a surface parking lot is now a muddy construction site: home to trailers, backhoes and pickup trucks, steel framing, and two tall cranes. In the center, two large concrete towers stand amidst the chaos.

[Update: check out the latest construction progress and see a cool time-lapse video showing the site of the new CHHS building.]

But look beyond the trailers, trucks and mud, and it’s possible to form a mental picture of what will be here in a year or two. An impressive new home for the university’s College of Health and Human Services is quickly rising on the site. It’s an improvement made possible by the vision and generosity of the Peterson family, which last year donated $8 million towards the building’s construction, along with an additional $2 million for music scholarships and other vital needs at the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Their extraordinary gift, described as “transformational” by university president Ángel Cabrera, supplements some $65 million in state funding for the building project.

When completed in late 2017, the building will represent a much-needed home for the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) as well as an important new campus destination. The beautiful, light-filled building will, together with Merten Hall, create a welcoming gateway at the northern entrance to campus. Its 160,000 square feet will unite the many aspects of CHHS under a single roof, including Social Work, Rehabilitation Sciences, Health Administration and Policy, Global and Community Health, Nutrition and Food Studies, and the School of Nursing. It’s an exciting prospect for the college’s faculty, staff, and more than 2,500 students.

The worth of an academic building, of course, is measured best not by square footage or price tag but by the value of the learning and research that goes on within its walls. Inside the new Peterson building, Mason’s nearly one thousand nursing students will gain hands-on experience in the Patient Simulation Laboratory, where they can master techniques while practicing teamwork and crisis management. New classrooms, the Nutrition Kitchen, and top-flight labs for health services research and rehabilitation studies will provide places for students and professors to seek solutions that improve health and quality of life.

Thomas Prohaska, dean of CHHS, sees the impact of the Petersons’ gift as extending far beyond bricks and mortar. “It is exciting to have a new building underway,” says Dean Prohaska. “But what’s really important is what the building represents. By bringing all of us at the college together under one roof, we will be able to create a true sense of community among our students and faculty, and engage in multidisciplinary collaboration better than ever before.”

“This gift won’t just build a building and provide scholarship or program support. Over time, it has the potential to save and change lives,” said Jon Peterson, principal at Peterson Companies and a current member of Mason’s Board of Visitors, at the June 2015 groundbreaking ceremony. “We are grateful to be in a position to make that sort of difference for our community.”

While nearly all of the building’s cost is now secured, an additional $1.3 million is still needed to complete the private philanthropy portion of the construction budget. Closing this gap will ensure the timely completion of the project, including the creation of planned green spaces and gathering places. For Mason supporters interested in seeing a lasting legacy made possible through their commitment, there could hardly be a better time—or cause—than this.

Be part of CHHS’s future! To make your contribution towards the CHHS building fund and/or the Nursing Patient Simulation Laboratory, use the Give button below. Thank you!

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February 17, 2016 / RR