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Construction begins on new Methodist College campus

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In case anyone wondered how much Dr. Kimberly Johnston wanted to expand Methodist College to a larger space more befitting of a school of higher education, she showed them when given a golden hammer Tuesday at the college’s new site.

Johnston pounded and pounded and pounded some more on a wall inside the former American TV store on War Memorial Drive, afterward pronouncing it “therapeutic” as she and other officials got construction underway. It is something Johnston has been seeking for several years as Methodist College has been growing and pushing against the walls of its current location in downtown Peoria.

In lieu of breaking ground, since the building that will house the college’s academics already exists, the officials instead hammered into a half wall just inside the front doors that will be removed to begin renovation of the 120,000 square foot building.

Close to 100 people attended the ceremony, hearing about and viewing plans for the new campus that will include residence halls on land behind the college, all expected to be completed and ready for the fall of 2016.

Johnston said the first steps will be to gut the former retail store at 5801 W. War Memorial Drive and “create a true college environment” that will lend itself to Methodist College’s values and goals to offer student-centered education for the community.

“The student is the reason we’re here,” Johnston said while describing all the college will offer, including three labs, the simulation center that will be moved to the new campus from UnityPoint Health Methodist Hospital, an advanced health sciences library, fitness center, designated study space, a community room and space for relaxation and collaborations. There will also be office space for faculty and student services.

“I don’t use the term state-of-the-art lightly, but it will be state-of-the-art,” Johnston said.

The first residence hall will have 112 bedrooms and offer safe and controlled access, common areas on each floor, a kitchenette in each two-bedroom or four-bedroom suite, laundry facilities on each floor and will include cable, Wi-Fi, electricity, garbage collection and water.

Debbie Simon, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health Methodist, cited Johnston’s vision and persistence in making the new campus a reality, but also credited her vision and work for turning what had long been “a great school of nursing to a great college of nursing to a great college.”

Since Johnston came to Methodist College, it has grown from about 100 students to more than 600 and the growth is expected to continue. It has gone from offering a nursing degree to a full academic schedule, offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing and health sciences, with a full range of arts and sciences curricula, and a master’s in nursing degree.

Others who spoke at the ceremony including Diane Oberhelman, chairman of Cullinan Properties Ltd., which will develop the student residence halls for Methodist College. She said the location of the new campus will be ideal for students because of its proximity to the Shoppes at Grand Prairie and surrounding retail. She said reservations for the residence halls already are being taken.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis cited Oberhelman’s vision 15 years ago when she developed the Shoppes at Grand Prairie and converted that corner of the city into the retail and commercial center it is today. That vision, he added, “translates into literally millions of dollars into our local economy.”

State Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, called the new campus “a truly remarkable step forward” from Methodist College’s beginnings more than 100 years ago.

“We will need more and more nurses and health care workers going forward and it’s an opportunity for Peoria to once again lead the way,” Leitch said.

State Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, said the new campus will “further enhance Peoria as the great community it is.”

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).