Pikes Peak Community College is undergoing its biggest expansion in more than two decades so that it can meet the needs of the 21st-century workforce.
It’s a big deal, President Lance Bolton said. “We have not expanded our footprint since 1998 when we opened the Rampart Range Campus.”
PPCC is the state’s second-largest community college, serving about 20,000 students in 125 degree and certificate programs each year.
But it has been hearing about “unmet needs,” Bolton said, particularly in health care.
Hospital expansions for UCHealth and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs have increased the demand for specialized workers, he said, as has the changing nature of health care, with more technicians in the field.
“As industry has grown in our community, we have not grown,” Bolton said.
He said he expects an enrollment surge over the next few years as the cyclical economy likely will swing to a downturn, which historically produces more students.
So PPCC is renovating a nearly 70,000-square-foot building at 1850 Cypress Semi Drive, about a mile north of the Rampart Range Campus, to create the PPCC Health Education Center.
The center will house the region’s first accredited, certified and interdisciplinary simulation lab, which Bolton said will greatly reduce training at hospitals and clinics.
“We can do up to half of the real-world training in the simulation lab,” he said, “where you can create high-stakes, high-pressure, low-risk scenarios with sophisticated mannequins.
“There’s only a handful of these kinds of labs in the country.”
And this lab is the first in Colorado, he said.
Boost to health care industry
In addition to containing PPCC’s two- and four-year nursing programs, the new Health Education Center will have surgical technology, pharmacy tech, surgical tech, EMS, dental assisting and medical assisting programs.
The expansion will benefit health care throughout El Paso County, said Joel Yuhas, president and CEO of UCHealth Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs.
“No school in our area has surgical technology. The closest is in Pueblo,” Yuhas said. “With more operating rooms opening, we’re very excited to see this because we need those students to graduate and come work here.”
The school closed on the former semiconductor research and development building in mid-December, at a cost of $5.5 million. Cypress Semiconductor Corp. acquired the building in 2012 as part of its $110 million purchase of Ramtron Corp., but didn't need the manufacturing space for the 90-person design and marketing operation, which it plans to move later this year to 536 Chapel Hills Drive, said Samer Bahou, a Cypress spokesman.
Renovations will run another $4.3 million, mainly from savings and grants from foundations and philanthropic organizations.
The building’s first phase, for nursing and surgical tech tracks, is to open in the fall. The remaining fields will come online in the fall of 2020.
UCHealth donated $250,000 last year to PPCC’s Foundation to benefit its two-year nursing program, said Yuhas, who is on the foundation’s board.
The college’s expansion should help address the nursing shortage, Yuhas added.
The county has about 1,000 unfilled positions for registered nurses, he said.
“This investment will help our entire community,” Yuhas said.
Bolton expects the programs to be popular. PPCC’s nursing degree program accepts only 10 percent of applicants, who have an average GPA of 3.99, and it has the highest nursing board pass rates in the state, he said.
What happens to those other 90 percent of applicants?
“They go into surgical tech, medical office tech, phlebotomy or other health care areas,” Bolton said. “And right now, we have a tremendous supply-side issue and bottle-necking on getting into those programs.”
New theater, arts facility
Another big project is the creation of Studio West, just west of PPCC’s Downtown Studio Campus.
PPCC bought a 10,000-square-foot building, formerly Gowdy Printcraft, at 22 N. Sierra Madre St., and for three years leased it to Borealis Fat Bikes.
The historic building will undergo a $1 million transformation beginning in March into an arts complex with the Taffy and Steve Mulliken Black Box Theatre, the Kristen Kane Faricy Dance Studio and a large art gallery.
Bolton said Studio West will be part of the thriving downtown arts scene, now a designated Creative District, and will be only a couple of blocks north of the U.S. Olympic Museum now under construction.
“We thought we’d capitalize on the cool, gritty, old urban building with exposed bricks and beams,” Bolton said. “It’s going to make a wonderful arts studio.”
Other programs are being moved to accommodate more growth.
PPCC will increase the 3,000 square feet it has leased for three years for welding and construction training at 850 Aeroplaza Drive to 26,000 square feet to develop a new Technical Education Center. The building will house advanced manufacturing programs, including robotics, machining, 3-D printing, CAD and electronics, welding and construction.
“Those programs have been full every semester,” Bolton said of the latter two.
The center also is to be ready by the fall semester.
Moving those programs will allow PPCC to expand other career and technical programs at its main Centennial Campus on South Academy Boulevard, Bolton said.
PPCC also is leasing a classroom and computer lab at The Catalyst Campus, 555 E. Pikes Peak Ave., for its Cyber Range. In new secure labs, PPCC professors are teaching noncredit cybersecurity courses that prepare working professionals to take industry certification exams.
“We needed a safe place to train because we bring in viruses and malware,” Bolton said.
The classes are taught by advanced, certified and employed IT professionals, so students work alongside those in the know, he said.
Focus on needed skills
Finally, several grants are enabling PPCC to move some of its paramedic training, a substantial part of the Emergency Medical Technician program, as well as noncredit paramedic programs to the UCHealth Community Education Center at 175 S. Union Blvd.
Classes are being offered there this semester. Eventually, those programs will move to the new Health Education Center, Bolton said.
“Health care, cyber and advanced manufacturing skills are really our focus areas now,” he said. “That’s where Colorado Springs is growing and where more workers are needed. Hence the investment in those areas.”
Along with increasing enrollment, the reconfiguration and expansion of campuses are expected to help the school maintain its increasing student retention, which was at 43 percent eight years ago and is now at 55.5 percent. That means 55.5 percent of students enrolled in the fall of 2017 who didn’t graduate or transfer were enrolled in the fall of 2018.
“It’s our eighth consecutive year of improving fall retention rates,” Bolton said, “which we view as our most critical indicator.”
PPCC also has had record numbers of students graduating for five of the past six years, he said, ranking it tops in the state for number of graduates and retention rates.
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