Mount dreams big for nurses, plans to sleep more students

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The Mount has big plans for more student beds and better nursing labs, but no one’s building them just yet.

Given the uproar surrounding the proposed expansion of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale’s Palisade Avenue campus, it might not come as a shock the College of Mount Saint Vincent’s own expansion plans have been, to some extent, overshadowed.

The proposed six-story, 64,000-square-foot building at The Mount’s North Riverdale campus would serve a dual purpose, said Kevin DeGroat, vice president of operations. It would provide 164 beds for students on the upper four floors, with the two lower floors comprised of about 19,000 square feet of cutting-edge nursing simulation labs.

Putting two components in one building, he added, minimizes the impact it would have on campus.

“Basically, long and short, the college has a growing resident population, and we’re currently at capacity,” DeGroat said. “In order for the college to be sustainable in the market, we need to continue to grow our resident population, in part due to the difficulty of commuting to campus.”

The school continues to grow modestly, DeGroat said, with about two-thirds of students residing on campus, while the rest commute. But there’s also a growing shortage of nurses both in New York and across the country.

“The goal here, in order to grow and serve the demands, we need to expand into some really new, state-of-the-art simulation labs with state-of-the-art equipment,” DeGroat said. 

Make no mistake. These are not your grandmother’s nursing laboratories.

“They’re all high-fidelity mannequins,” DeGroat said. “Everything is computerized, so it takes the nurses through real, live scenarios with the mannequins. All the scenarios are also recorded, so they can play back and watch and look for errors, or review where something may have went wrong or went right.”

But another main focus of the project was preserving “the green, natural beauty of the campus,” all of which falls in the region’s Special Natural Area District.

“We proposed building this in a spot that has the least amount of impact to the natural features of the campus,” DeGroat said. “Currently, we’ve got no existing spaces that we could convert or repurpose for either use, whether it’s residence halls or nursing simulation labs.” 

The new residence hall would be built on what is now a grassy area between the Seton Hall and Founders Hall buildings, a little east of the Metro-North tracks running along the bank of the Hudson River, and a hair north of West 261st Street.

Mount officials appeared before Community Board 8’s land use committee earlier this month, and they’ll have to return in June. That appearance, however, coincided with the first of three meetings scheduled to deal with Hebrew Home’s controversial plans to build a 388-bed continuing care retirement community on its campus. 

And that may have contributed to land use committee’s taking a much harder look at what The Mount has proposed.

“They thought it was going to be a slam dunk, and they weren’t really as prepared as they might be to deal with the questions that were raised by a number of people,” land use chair Charles Moerdler said at a full board meeting the following night.

The rough estimate for the building’s all-in cost — including design, permit fees and construction — is about $15 million, DeGroat said.

“I think the community board and the college are on the same page,” DeGroat said. “We’ve always worked well together in the past. The college has a good relationship with the community. The students and faculty and staff here patronize the local businesses, and we’ve always had a good reputation within the community. 

“We respect the natural features of the land, and want to keep the land as natural as possible.”

Although the expansion plans fall within SNAD — which often requires a host of permits before altering natural features, such as removing trees — they’re also within the boundaries of the college’s campus, meaning less impact on neighbors. The proposed building won’t even be visible from outside of campus, DeGroat said, whether from Riverdale Avenue, or from West 261st Street.

“I don’t think we have those same constraints as much with the community,” DeGroat said. “We’re not impeding anybody’s views or areas, and we’re following our master plan. We’re not asking for anything outside of that.” 

The project is expected to displace a handful of trees, DeGroat said, which the college would replant around the same area.

The timeline remains uncertain, but DeGroat is optimistic that ground could be broken on the new structure early next year.

“The campus, along with its faculty and staff, has done some pretty amazing things as the school has grown and expanded and upgraded a lot of its facilities,” DeGroat said. “I think we’re in a great up-and-coming place here as a school, so I feel good going into the future.”

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