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Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall: Helping Mason Reach Its Potential in Health Education

By the numbers

Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall is the second-largest building on any of George Mason University’s four campuses—only Founders Hall in Arlington is larger, said Alex Iszard, associate director of contracts and finance at George Mason and the project’s manager.

The university broke ground on the building in June 2015.

The building cost $71 million, with $62 million coming from the commonwealth, and $9 million from private donations, including $8 million from the Peterson family, led by Milt and Carolyn Peterson of Fairfax, Va.

Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall, the new home of the College of Health and Human Services, gathers all six academic departments into one space. The 165,000-square-foot facility includes classrooms, offices, a health clinic, wet labs, a nutrition kitchen, and an amphitheater on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus. Faculty and staff will move in this fall, and students will take classes there starting in January 2018.

George Mason benefactor and Mason Board of Visitors vice rector Jon Peterson said his family’s goal is to help Mason reach its potential just as the school has helped Northern Virginia reach its potential.

Peterson Hall has a powerful presence on the Mason campus, said Germaine Louis, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, adding that its sleek contemporary architecture sets the stage for an exceedingly bright future.

“The building is an investment in people—those who will work and learn in it, as well as the many people who will be helped by the college’s faculty and graduates. This building signifies innovative thinking, discovery, service, and ensuring students have lifelong skills to advance health for all people,” she said.

Here’s a floor-by-floor look at the new building’s offerings.

Courtyards and green space

The building’s main entrance faces the corner of Patriot Circle and Aquia Creek Lane. Just outside is a courtyard, the Marcia and Tony Di Trapani Rain Garden, and an amphitheater that could be used for events and outdoor instruction, said Alex Iszard, Mason’s associate director of contracts and finance, and project manager for the building.

Former Lot H has been removed and will be converted to green space. The Rappahannock River Parking Deck near Alan and Sally Merten Hall and surface Lot I will serve the building.

Ground floor

The building is designed to have gradually increasing mass as a viewer moves counterclockwise from the south, starting on Patriot Circle, Iszard said. Its sections have two, three, and five stories.

Near the main entrance is retail space for a food service vendor. The ground floor contains classrooms, student services offices, and informal breakout spaces with wireless audiovisual capabilities.

Nutrition kitchen

The state-of-the-art Camille Berry Nutrition Kitchen for the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies will be on the ground floor of the building’s three-story portion. One corner includes floor-to-ceiling windows that will have a large monitor facing outward so passers-by can see what’s happening inside, Iszard said. There will be six cooking islands, each accommodating four students.

The nutrition kitchen was once housed off campus in a leased space in a diner, which was fun for students, but lacked sufficient space for preparation. The new space allows students to have their own stovetops and their own workspace.

The kitchen’s audiovisual capabilities are one of the most remarkable things about the space, Iszard said.

“The way the AV equipment will work is similar to what you would see if watching a program on the Food Network,” he said. Professors will be able to control remote cameras by tapping different buttons on the floor.

Recordings from those cameras are sent to a server, which stores information. Each of the student stations is equipped with an iPad to retrieve and replay the recordings.

“They can go back, pause, rewind [or] pull up lectures from a previous day’s lectures,” he said.

Because it’s a small space with some sight line difficulties, the cameras are a way to make sure everyone can see what is being taught, Iszard added.

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Second Floor: School of Nursing, Rehabilitation Science, and the clinic

The new building allows the School of Nursing’s services and classrooms to be centralized. The school’s patient simulators will relocate from Robinson Hall to the new simulation and assessment labs, said Carol Urban, director of Mason’s School of Nursing.

Two cameras will be stationed over the beds where the patient simulators are tethered, so the students’ work can be recorded and critiqued later, Urban said.

The Department of Rehabilitation Science will move from its current space in the Volgenau School of Engineering to the second floor of Peterson Family Hall. The new space will feature a raised platform of force plates with sensors that can detect where and how much force is being applied when a patient is standing or walking.

A standalone clinic offering nonemergency, primary care and urgent care will be on the top floor of the two-story portion of the building, accessible from the School of Nursing and Rehabilitation Science by bridge walk.

The clinic will be managed and operated by a Mason partner providing medical care to the community and Mason staff and faculty. Students will continue to be seen at the Student Health Services [in SUB I], said P. J. Maddox, chair of Mason’s Department of Health Administration and Policy.

Medical professionals will staff the clinic, but students will rotate through to gain real-world experience, Maddox said.

The clinic will feature five traditional exam rooms, including one specifically engineered to care for the morbidly obese. Office space can be converted to more exam rooms if the need arises, Izard said.

A sixth exam room is designed for remote patients. Its audio and video capabilities will allow doctors and nurses to reach patients almost anywhere.

Third Floor: School of Nursing offices, Department of Social Work

Offices for the School of Nursing and Department of Social Work will be housed on the third floor, along with one of three wet lab spaces. The lab includes the necessary plumbing, ventilation, and equipment to allow for hands-on scientific research.

“This is probably the most technically complex space in the building,” Iszard said of the wet labs. “From the ceiling, the natural gas, the vacuumed air, the compressed air, and the reverse osmosis treated water comes down to the bench top so that the researchers have access to all that.”

The new wet lab space is a key component in conducting current research and bringing in new researchers.

The Health Informatics Learning Lab, known as The Hill, where data mining from health records is conducted, will also be on the third floor. The lab meets HIPAA requirements for data storage, providing Mason with the ability to conduct research using electronic health records.

Fourth and fifth floors

The second and third wet lab research spaces are stacked on the fourth and fifth floors above the third-floor space.

The Health Informatics Program and the Department of Health Administration and Policy, along with Nutrition and Food Studies faculty offices, will all be housed on the fourth floor.

The Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics; the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability; and the Center for Discovery Science and Health Informatics, which houses health-related data, are located on the fourth floor.

The dean’s offices of the College and Health and Human Services will be on the fifth floor, along with the Department of Global and Community Health.

August 21, 2017 / adapted from a story by Jamie Rogers