Central Delaware
Former Frear Building shaping up for Wesley nursing program
Wesley College president Dr. William Johnston marvels at the improvements made to the lobby area of the old Frear Federal Building, which soon will become home to the school’s nursing program. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — In the former J. Allen Frear Federal Building in downtown Dover on Tuesday afternoon, workers wearing hard hats hammered dry wall.

Orange cones and tools were scattered throughout the building. A crew worked on the heating and air conditioning system while electricians put in wiring. Many rooms smelled like new paint.

Renovations for the building, recently acquired by Wesley College, are on time to wrap up mid-December and, by January, nursing students may be walking to classes there.

“The nursing program is truly enthusiastic about this move. It’s a dream come true for them,” college president Dr. William Johnston said.

For Wesley College, the move has been a long time coming.

When the federal government announced in April 2009 that the 36,000 square-foot building on South New Street would be declared surplus property, Wesley College administration had already been hunting for a new space for years.

They had plans to expand, but, on their landlocked campus a few blocks north, there wasn’t much room. They submitted an application for the building in September 2010 through the U.S. Department of Education.

The deed was granted to Wesley later that year, and a Public Benefit Allowance discount allowed the college to acquire the building at no cost “due to its focus on education.”

Wesley officials finally took the keys in December 2012 and renovations on the 39-year-old building began July 15. Remodeling the interior, which had once been government office space, will cost the college an estimated $2.2 million.

The work was supported by both private donations and foundations. The Longwood Foundation and the Welfare Foundation both provided grants to assist with the renovation. Money also came from the state and federal government, through Health Resources and Services Administration.

A grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware will provide an anatomically correct manikin, technology infrastructure that includes wireless Internet, smart boards and other teaching aids, in addition to security for the exterior of the building.

When work is done, the Wesley College Health Science Building will contain the labs, classrooms and offices for the college’s nursing department.

“We tried hard to work with the building footprint as much as we could,” said Rick Richardson, the physical plant director at Wesley.

“It sends a lot less waste out and means a lot less materials coming in.”

On the second floor, for instance, existing offices for the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Council will be reused as faculty offices. A large conference room close by will also be re-finished and reused as a conference room.

And, rather than throwing out unwanted materials from the building, the debris will be re-purposed or recycled.

Major renovations, he said, will include installing fire sprinklers and making the bathrooms more accessible.

The nursing department, which includes about 140 undergraduate students and 40 to 50 master’s nursing students, is currently housed on campus in the basement of Dulaney Hall — a 5,500 square-foot space with only one classroom.

For nursing students, the best news is that they’ll have more clinical space, Mr. Richardson said, including rooms on the second floor resembling a real hospital or doctor’s office.

The nursing simulation labs, equipped with high-tech manikins, will be wired with video cameras and speakers so that teachers can monitor students’ work and control their robotic “patients” from another room.

There’s also a ward on the second floor with eight to 10 beds, an exam table and white boards.

A space that once belonged to the local FBI bureau — which, for now, still has a handcuff rail in the corner — will be set up like a home so that nurses can practice house calls.

On the first floor, there are plans for four classrooms, with the largest about 1500 square-feet, and an administrative suite. Once narrow corridors and offices, some walls have been knocked down to make room for classrooms.

The first-floor entryway will feature a curved wall with panels decorated with photos and text, detailing the history of the nursing program.

But the college has also elected to keep the copies of the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and Constitution framed on the wall close by, out of respect to the building’s past.

With the extra space, Dr. Johnston said he hopes to grow the college’s health sciences offerings and maybe add another major.

“We’ll be able to really reach out to the community and use it for many purposes,” he said of the building as he walked through it Tuesday.

With a growing demand for nurses and the field quickly changing, the time is right for expansion.

“Interest in nursing is certainly growing and this facility is going to help us meet that need,” Dr. Johnston said.

Wesley’s nursing graduate program has been recognized as one of the best in the area by U.S. News & World Report, where it was ranked in the top 50.

The Health Sciences Building is situated on two and a half acres of land less than two blocks from Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital — an ideal spot for nursing students, who can participate in programs and partnerships there.

The building is also only about three-tenths of a mile from Wesley’s main campus, Dr. Johnston said — just about as far as the athletic fields.

Dr. Johnston said he’s looking into transportation options for students. The city also worked closely with Wesley, he said, to make a safe pedestrian walkway for students to the building.

Recently, he said, 21 cameras were installed in Dover — many directly on the walk from Wesley’s main campus to the Health Sciences Building. Work on Loockerman Way Plaza, a civic plaza along the way on Loockerman Street, was finished in March.

Staff writer Eleanor La Prade can be reached at 741-8242 or Follow DSNEleanor on Twitter.