LEWISTON — A $600,000 modernization of laboratory and simulation spaces is underway at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College.

The work, scheduled to be completed in August, will expand the capacity of the high-demand Bachelor of Science in nursing, and the Master of Occupational Therapy programs, according to a news release from the college. 

An estimated 30 more nursing students and 15 more occupational therapy students can be facilitated because of the renovations, Blake Whitaker, associate professor of Natural and Applied Sciences and LAC’s academic associate dean, said Thursday.

Among the more specialized areas will be spaces that resemble clinical exam rooms and hospital patient rooms.

The anatomy and physiology area will be wired to project live, high-definition images from either the Internet or a sophisticated microscope to two large classroom screens.

“We need laboratories that keep our students up to date,” Whitaker said. “That’s why we’re expanding the occupational therapy laboratory learning area, as well as the gross anatomy and physiology learning areas, to support our nursing students and our OT students.”

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Lewiston-Auburn continues to be a health care hub in the state, he said.

“We’ve got two major hospitals right here in town — Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center — and a part of servicing those hospitals is carrying on a local, bachelor’s-level nursing program.”

With the growing nursing and occupational therapy programs, the college is helping train the next generation of caregivers.

The nursing and occupational therapy programs are both growing because the college’s four-year and graduate programs are less expensive than nearby competitors, Whitaker said.

“And we’ve got better placement rates,” he said. “Those, we think, are based on superior board scores. You have to pass your national exams to go ahead and practice.”

The nursing program at Lewiston-Auburn College is built on groups of students, called “cohorts,” who learn alongside one another. The nursing cohort numbers about 40 students. The occupational therapy cohort has increased from 18 students to 36.

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Both programs maintain long waiting lists because of a to lack of space, even with the renovations. The waiting list for fully-qualified nursing students now numbers 50; 57 for occupational therapy students.

Interest in occupational therapy is growing, and the jobs are there, Whitaker said.

“We’re seeing an increase because OT serves our disabled population, the elderly and our returning veterans,” he said. “In fact, we’re seeing more veterans apply.”

The project was funded as part of a $15.5 million statewide bond for improving laboratory and classroom facilities at campuses across the University of Maine System. It was approved by Maine voters in November 2013.

In all, $4 million was directed to labs and classrooms at the University of Southern Maine. The Lewiston work began May 11.

Workers from Ganneston Construction Corp. of Augusta cleared out classrooms and practica/simulation rooms on the first and second floors of the college’s main building. The changes will transform more than 5,000 square feet on the first floor, and almost 1,500 on the second floor.

Before the project is finished, about 50 workers for Ganneston or its subcontractors will have contributed to the project, Bruce Clement, the on-site supervisor, said.

The work is scheduled to be completed in August, just before the start of the fall semester.

Stephen Hunnewell, a worker from Sheet Metal Services Inc. of New Gloucester, works on the renovation of a first-floor classroom at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston. New classrooms for nursing and occupational therapy students are expected to be completed in August.
 

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