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Corporation endorses design plans for new Medical Education Building

Approval of plans for a new Medical Education Building occupied the "lion's share" of the Corporation's time this weekend, Chancellor Thomas Tisch '76 said, along with discussions about the University's ongoing drive to expand into Providence's Jewelry District.

The Corporation, which officially endorsed design plans for the new project, also heard further details on the planned $45 million renovation of the facility.

Construction work will begin early next year on the existing Brown-owned building at 222 Richmond St., pending approval from the City Plan Commission and the Providence Zoning Board of Review.

The new home of Alpert Medical School — set to open in August 2011 — will offer an anatomy lab, an area for the proposed "academies" within the curriculum and a "critical skills area" with a replica of an examination room for more effective patient-doctor training, said Edward Wing, dean of medicine and biological sciences.

The Corporation approved designs for the academies to occupy their own space on the second floor of the new building, Wing said, giving medical students "their own social space," complete with lockers and offices for advisers.

The downtown location, Wing said, was especially important for the medical school because of its proximity to local hospitals, many of which are located in the area.

The school represents "one of the big moves for Brown off the hill," Wing said, adding that the University has plans to light up the new building at night when it is completed.

"It's a symbol and a beacon for Brown and medical education," he said.

Because the building was not included in the University's 2006 five-year Institutional Master Plan, the University must now go through a formal amendment process and receive city approval for the project, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to President Ruth Simmons.

University properties in the Jewelry District lie outside the official "institutional zone," and Brown must secure a special-use permit before beginning construction, Spies said.

Administrators are hopeful that the city will approve the project, he said, as it is consistent with the city's and the state's plans for the area.

The University hired the private development consulting firm Appleseed, Inc. to analyze the impact of the renovation on the local economy, Spies said. Though the University traditionally performs its own economic impact analyses, administrators decided to take a more formal approach for the Jewelry District property, he added.

Renovation of the Medical Education building will create approximately 350 temporary jobs and generate $26.2 million of economic output in the state, according to the Appleseed report.

"The economy is such an issue for everyone," Spies said. "We want to demonstrate to the community that the project can serve the many purposes we've described for it."

Administrators and city officials anticipate that increasing Brown's presence in the Jewelry District will contribute to a "knowledge economy" in the city, spurring future growth and development.

Planning architect Frances Halsband presented her report on Brown's properties in the Jewelry District, focusing specifically on the area around the medical education building, Spies said.

Halsband's study takes a comprehensive look at Brown's future presence in the area, looking at potential low-cost improvements that would continue to foster economic and community growth. The University has long been looking to the Jewelry District for future development, especially as a long-anticipated highway relocation project opens up new land.

But collaborative planning with community groups, government officials and surrounding universities has recently come into question following debate on a bill pending in the state legislature that would allow the city to assess property taxes on private universities.

For this reason, Spies said, focus on Halsband's report was limited to areas surrounding 222 Richmond rather than the neighborhood in its entirety.

"As long as there is this big cloud on us in terms of the issue of tax, were taking it one step at a time," he said. "We want to focus on an area where we know we can actually do something."

The Corporation supported Halsband's suggestions to look at surrounding streetscapes, including widening the sidewalks on Richmond Street, improving landscaping and encouraging retail in the area, Spies added.


— With additional reporting by Sydney Ember




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