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This fall, students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will find a new Student Health Center waiting to serve them, the dual wings of the building spread wide like an inviting hug.

Nursing students at the Lincoln division of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing will also immerse themselves in the new space, filled with state-of-the-art classrooms and training labs.

Tuesday, NU officials celebrated completion of the $43.9 million facility, as well as the collaborative effort between the university system's flagship campus and its hub for medical education.

The sprawling, 107,000-square-foot health center at 550 N. 19th St. replaces UNL's former University Health Center, which opened in 1958, and will also accommodate UNMC nursing programs that had previously rented space in a downtown Lincoln building basement.

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said the new student health complex is for "the benefit and enjoyment" of an estimated 26,500 students set to arrive in Lincoln next month, while UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeff Gold said the nursing center will set nursing instruction apart in Nebraska "for a long time to come."

"There is no facility that is anything like this anywhere that I've been in this great country or frankly around the world," Gold said of the 54,000 square feet of classrooms and labs bursting at the seams with technology.

A skills lab lined with hospital beds gives students an opportunity to practice skills such as inserting an IV. It's situated down one long hallway next to a health assessment lab, which provides space to practice on classmates pretending to be patients.

Bianca Lowe, who is one of 69 students enrolled at UNMC’s Lincoln nursing division, said the extra space will expand opportunities for current and future students to hone their skills and build their confidence.

“There is a more modern feel here, it’s more functional,” said Lowe, a senior from Omaha. “And with the extra space, you won’t need to have as many students to a mannequin, which means we’ll each get a little more hands-on time.”

At the elbow of the first floor, a central control room overlooks simulation modules set up to mimic a surgery suite, maternity ward, an ICU and community clinic, among others, with laptops connecting to bed-ridden mannequins that serve as patients.

From the control hub, nursing instructor Mickey Zhang can program different scenarios into each module, giving students an opportunity to gain simulated experience before stepping into an actual clinical setting.

Small debriefing rooms ring the simulation hub, giving students a chance to instantly review their work with an instructor, or to watch their classmates practice in the lifelike setting.

“At the former location, we had one room," Zhang said. "We can now run more students at the same time, it’s more efficient with more mannequins and better technology."

Directly above the simulation center is a massive second-floor classroom, featuring as many screens as there are tables for small-group learning and collaboration. Just outside is a student commons, with space to relax or study.

On the other side of the second floor rests the check-in area for UNL’s Student Health Center, as well as private examination rooms for students to consult with the 130 health care professionals staffed by Nebraska Medicine.

"We're open for business on Monday," said Jill Lynch-Sosa, the University Health Center's director of operations.

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In the past, roughly 50 percent of UNL students sought services at the health center, she said, but that number is expected to grow, particularly with amenities such as a cushioned floor physical therapy room, aquatic therapy pool with an underwater treadmill, and wellness kitchen.

"There are so many free services covered under the (university program and facilities fees), it makes sense for students to come to the health center, whether it's for immunizations or to see a doctor," Lynch-Sosa added. "If we can't do it, we can refer them to someone else."

The remainder of the building, primarily the third floor, is dedicated office space for faculty and health care professionals.

When the new building officially opens this fall, instructors and students expect it to be a draw both for UNL students needing to see a doctor, as well as for prospective nurses looking to learn in a cutting-edge environment.

Zhang said UNMC will now have an expanded capacity at its Lincoln location, which will benefit clinics across Nebraska needing a new generation of nurses.

Previously capped at 72 students a year, Zhang said the College of Nursing could increase the number of students it accepts to 80 in the near future.

Like Lowe, Breanna Pekarek, a senior from Seward, said she watched as the new facility took shape once construction began in December 2016.

"I chose Lincoln because I knew that we'd be in this new building my senior year," Pekarek said.

“You really feel like you’re going to get a great education here just based on the immense space and all the great technology that we have,” Lowe said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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