By Erich Gillespie and Evan Collotti (Whetstone Staff)
Renovations began last semester on Wesley College’s latest addition to its campus – the massive J. Allen Frear Federal Building at 300 S. New St.
What cost Wesley virtually nothing to secure will prove a lot more expensive as its target launch date approaches in one year.
The building will be used primarily for Wesley’s nursing program. New computer labs, simulation labs, teacher offices – and perhaps a new major associated with nursing – will help fill the space.
“We are basically going from 5,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet and it is going to help us out so much,” said Dr. Robert Contino, Chair of the Nursing Department at Wesley College.
The building is 36,000 square feet, to be exact, which is nearly seven times the size of what Contino is used to working with.
Renovation will not be cheap.
“Cost for the renovations will be around $2 million,” said Patricia Dwyer, V.P. of Academic Affairs. “It’s an old building that we are converting to a school building so there is a lot of fixing to do.”
Administrators say that the renovations will be paid for not by students but by outside sources, through grants and fundraising. But maintenance and security will be paid for by the college – that is, by the students.
“Wesley has received a grant from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware that will cover, among other things, installation of a security system and cameras at the new Health Science Building,” said Chris Wood, Vice President for Institutional Advancement.
Some faculty expressed concern at the cost of maintaining such a large building.
“Maintenance for the building will probably come from the general budget so every department will be impacted,” said Dr. Frank Fiedler, a math professor. “Unless we compensate with increased tuition, which will no doubt prove unpopular among students.”
Wesley already has announced a 4.5 percent tuition increase for the next school year.
IT chief Jody Sweeney said the building will hold state-of-the-art technology that will give Wesley a distinct advantage in recruiting.
“We will be implementing high speed internet, Wi-Fi throughout the building, network access at every bed in the simulated ward and rooms, just like a real hospital,” he said. “We hope to implement intelligent whiteboard technology with audio/video presentation equipment in all classrooms. With these plans, I think that the future of nursing in Kent County just took a giant leap forward, and our students will be the beneficiaries of that.”
Some students, such as sophomore Cristina Bettencourt, said they were concerned that Wesley was headed for a larger raise in tuition to supplement additional costs that the Frear building will create.
“Although there may be a concern with tuition, I think that it is an awesome idea and I’m excited for it,” Bettencourt said. “I feel like it will be another reason to attract more students from all majors, not just nursing, to choose Wesley.”
Azure Johnson, a senior Mathematics major at Wesley, feels differently.
“All students will be impacted financially, but nursing majors will get more out of the building than everyone else,” she said.
Many nursing students said the new building is necessary and will make their pursuit of a degree less stressful.
“There just isn’t enough space and it makes classes very tough,” sophomore Kaitlyn O’Boyle said. “Our classes are right under the café so there’s lots of noise and distractions.”
O’Boyle also said she’s seen roaches scurrying about in the Nursing department.
Wesley College has been working on getting the Frear building for three years.
“The building was a federal building so we got it as a donation for no cost,” Dwyer said. “We hope that with this new building we can draw more students in as well as help with our retention rate.”
Officials at Wesley College held an open house at the Frear – formerly a Social Security building – where school officials gave speeches. They also provided blueprints of how the building will look once it’s renovated.
The location of the building may cause some problems for students who do not have a car on campus.
It is about a 15-minute walk from Malmberg Hall to Frear.
“We will be trying to get a shuttle bus to get students to the building,” Dwyer said. “When it will run will depend on the demand of students as well as class schedules.”
Students expressed concern about walking through downtown Dover to get to their classes.
“I hope they do the shuttle bus for us because I would prefer not to walk through downtown Dover at 10:30 p.m.,” O’Boyle said.
Nursing majors, such as sophomore Patrick Aruta, said they were very excited about the new addition to Wesley, regardless of its location.
“It is a great way for the school to recognize and show its support of one of its biggest majors,” Aruta said. “At some colleges it takes students 25 minutes to get to class.”
Tanner Polce, former president of the Student Government Association and current graduate student here at Wesley, thinks the college will use multiple strategies to ensure the safety of its students.
“It’s imperative that the students feel safe,” he said. “A stronger partnership with Dover’s police department is vital. My suggestion would be to work out a partnership with the city of Dover as well as the hospital’s shuttle service.”
Walt Beaupre, director of Safety and Security at Wesley, said he was well prepared for the additional security measures the new building requires.
“We have already started monitoring this facility by conducting several checks per day and have added several cameras,” he said. “These checks will increase as the building becomes occupied with faculty, staff and students. And we will increase checks during (evening) times.”
Beaupre also emphasized the school’s close relationship with the Dover Police.
“That relationship will continue with the Frear Building,” he said. “They will respond and assist Wesley Security as they do on the main campus.”
Although it might take Wesley security a little longer to respond, the building is less than a block away from the police station.