by Aaron Barber CTS, Senior Consultant

A long time ago, in a community far, far away (Lancaster PA)…I had lofty dreams to become a concert-pianist doctor.

As dreams go for a little skate-punk kid growing up in a bucolic Pennsylvania town in the mid-80’s, I don’t think this was too lofty a goal, and frankly at the time, it actually seemed quite attainable. So fast forward 30 years, and where am I now? The ambition to be a doctor fizzled out in high-school (math and sciences were not my strongest subjects), but…music? Yes, somehow music led me to be a Senior Project Consultant at The Sextant Group, helping design one of the top-tiered health sciences education facilities in the east.

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences (PCHS) needed to combine its far-flung, disparate locations around Lancaster that included a former school building, a couple of row homes, and a business park converted from an old RCA television tube manufacturing facility. The goal was to impart a sense of community by collecting the various functions into a unified campus. PCHS would embed their strategic priorities into both the physical environment and learning climate, providing “the opportunity to further the College’s learner-centered purpose, as well collaboration and innovation.”

Some of the rewarding aspects of the project for me were educating our client, exploring the various technologies planned and available — and who doesn’t like a field trip more than educators? We traveled to the Microsoft Technology Center in Philadelphia to see and test the pre-release sample of the Microsoft Surface Hub, plus systems from an audiovisual systems control manufacturer, and a telecommunications cabling manufacturing plant in nearly New Holland PA. A highlight was touring the plant floor and various assembly lines to gain an appreciation of the various mechanisms in place that ensure a high quality cable is produced.

With so many network-connected devices (and many more coming in the future), understanding the importance of a robust structured cabling system in any new project is critical particularly for the owner. We discussed the pros and cons of a plethora of products and options that could be utilized in PCHS’s new data center and telecommunications rooms. In conjunction with the field trips, we procured product samples from various manufacturers and set up manufacturer-led webinars. Through this education effort, PCHS was able to make well-informed decisions on their technology preferences and allowed us to prepare specifications with their direct input.

The completed Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences facility is a showcase for learner-centered classrooms. In keeping with the tradition of reusing space, the new 25-acre campus transforms a former office building and warehouse into a two-building, 345,000 SF, state-of-the-art health sciences campus.

The Emmett M. & Anne C. Cooper Building exemplifies the goals that the college set forth in the early stages of the project to focus on the learner, collaboration and innovation. It features over 1,000 classroom seats within 26 classrooms, 18 collaboration areas or study pods, an auditorium, a 24,000 SF medical simulation center, general science and learning labs, a 14,500 SF learning commons, collaborative study spaces, a health/wellness/fitness center, a café, and faculty office suites.

The classrooms are designed to “flip” standard instruction: centered on students rather than the teacher, the spaces support flexible, technology-enabled collaboration. The active learning classrooms afford the instructor the opportunity to present education materials to the students and then have learners break out into collaboration groups to further discuss and review concepts and to solve problems and scenarios set-forth by the instructor. Flat-panel displays around the room let students connect to them wirelessly from their own devices to further the conversation. Following instruction, students can meet in small groups to collaborate on the instructional concepts in group study rooms.

The crown jewel of the facility is the 24,000 SF medical education simulation suite. This facility offers future healthcare workers technology-rich spaces to learn the tools of their trade in environments that are as life-like as the ones they will face in the real world. Instructional environments within the simulation suite include an Ultrasound Lab, Respiratory Lab, multiple Clinical Skills Labs, plus an Operating Room, X-Ray/Nuclear Medicine Room, a Home Care Apartment, Patient Rooms and Debrief Rooms. Each space includes video and audio capture capabilities as students provide patient care in a simulated healthcare environment. Following medical simulation training and encounters, students review their sessions with each other or their instructors to further their educational progress.

The Kenneth G. Stoudt Building is home to the administrative facilities, with conference rooms, a boardroom, offices, a large multi-purpose room and the campus’ telecommunications head-end. Even though these spaces are intended to support the campus’ administrative staff, elements supporting collaboration and innovation are clearly evident. Conference spaces for large and small groups include similar audiovisual technologies implemented within the student-focused learning environments.

Technological innovations are not just for the students. The faculty and staff have access to audiovisual resources to provide them with the tools to further their development as educators. Instructors can test new audiovisual technologies and capture their presentations. One the most anticipated spaces is a Lightboard Room (originally designed by Northwestern University professor Michael Peshkin). Featuring a presentation capture system with a large glass writing surface, wireless microphones, a video camera, and specialty lighting, the presenter uses familiar teaching methods without having to turn away from the presentation surface while recording.

While education is foremost, there are other extras for students and staff. A health, wellness and fitness center provides a place for students to blow off some steam. The center includes a 1,600 SF aerobics room with projection and audio systems, plus a 4,300 SF fitness area with all the accoutrements of a local fitness center, including multiple flat panel displays and a distributed sound system.

What impressed this “would be concert-pianist doctor turned audiovisual consultant” most was that throughout the process of assessing the needs of the college from a technology perspective and developing that into a program, the PCHS team was fully focused on the learner and the outcomes that this facility would provide. In the end, the meshing of the instructional environment with cutting-edge technology systems enables the campus to focus on the learner, offering a collaborative and experiential environment with technology systems that students and future healthcare practitioners of the 21st Century expect.

Greenfield Architects Ltd. and Stantec were the architects, and Dobil Laboratories Inc. was the audiovisual systems installation contractor for both buildings. Special thanks to John Cook, Ed “Duke” Dukstein and David Glenn of The Sextant Group for their design expertise and assistance. Share your thoughts and feedback with Aaron at

Top photo courtesy PCHS