WSU Spokane begins $15.5 million renovation for medical school

A $15.5 million renovation project will transform one of the oldest buildings on the Washington State University campus in Spokane into the central hub of the university’s medical school.

The Phase One building toward the northeast portion of the campus was last used by Eastern Washington University until 2021, when the university moved most of its Spokane programs to the Catalyst Building. Previously designated as the EWU Center, the 113,00 square foot structure has since remained unused.

WSU Spokane plans to renovate the building by adding a new student center, testing rooms, classrooms, and faculty offices for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

Eric Smith, director of capital projects at WSU Spokane, said the project, which is funded through the state’s 2021-23 biennium, expects demolition to begin this month with completion by mid-2023.

“I think we have a lot of great things going on with medical school,” Smith said. “It’s a great building. We just try to get the most out of it as possible, and it allows us to grow a little bit over time.”

The medical school — including classes 2022-25 — consists of about 300 students, according to the school’s website.

Constructed in 1991, the Phase 1 building is so named because it was one of the first buildings constructed on the WSU Spokane campus, Smith said. The university plans to rename it.

Smith said the renovation came about a few years before the pre-design process of proposing a separate project related to the Second Health Sciences Building.

EWU spokesman Dave Meany said the former EWU Center was anchoring EWU Spokane’s operations, having previously been home to the College of Health Sciences and Public Health as well as the College of Business and Public Administration.

In his assessment of the former EWU center, Smith said WSU officials saw an opportunity to enhance the existing space to better accommodate the medical school, which currently has faculty and programs spread across campus.

The administrative functions of the Faculty of Medicine are located in the adjacent Academic Center building on the fourth floor. This is where their main base is,” he said. “But then you have professors scattered among nursing. Nursing IT team. You have research teams in the Health Sciences Building. You have some staff in the pharmacy building.”

“They were placed wherever we had a place,” he said.

While the largely renovated Phase 1 building will be used by the medical school, Smith said nursing, pharmacy, and other programs will use the structure as well.

WSU has hired Spokane Bouten Construction and Hennebery Eddy Architects to work on the project through what Smith described as a “progressive design and build” process. It allows designers, building managers, and college administrators to collaborate simultaneously rather than design architects separately from the construction company’s involvement.

The developers of the project hosted an open house Thursday for people to get a last look at the building in its current state.

Smith said improving acoustics by adding new sound-absorbing panels and carpeting is a priority for the project.

Meanwhile, the most significant physical change will be the removal of the auditorium of about 100 seats. Smith said the hall is not expected to be demolished and other exterior changes until next year.

“There was a reason for that because this was the second building on the campus. When they built the campus, they needed an auditorium. Times have changed a little bit,” Smith said. “It’s just not an efficient space. The floor is all concrete, so trying to change it, we don’t have enough room to change it to make it really effective.”

Four classrooms will be combined on the first floor to create two testing centers for medical students. Because of how regularly medical students take tests, Smith said, designated, controlled spaces are more ideal than classrooms.

The second floor space – once used by WSU as an architecture studio, then by EWU for the university’s creative writing program – will serve as a student center, which will contain study spaces, a technology bar, 3D printers, and a kitchen space.

On the third floor, Smith said the developers plan to place workplaces for faculty and students while the wing formerly used for the business school at Eastern Washington University will house faculty offices.

“It’s a great building. She has great bones. We haven’t seen any structural problems in it, Smith said. “We just need to reimagine some of the space.”