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CU South Denver plans for future

Second phase of renovation set for next year


The introduction of classes this fall at the University of Colorado's South Denver facility at The Wildlife Experience is merely a starting point for what's to come.

Just six months ago, poisonous snakes occupied a 7,000 square-foot space that now serves as three separate classrooms. What were once basement storage rooms for taxidermy animals and wildlife exhibits are now high-tech simulation labs that host incredibly life-like training scenarios for the school's 36 nursing students.

In total, the University of Colorado has renovated 11,000 square-feet of underutilized space into classrooms, and a second phase of construction next year will further transform the facility into a full-fledged, institution of higher learning. A commons area will be enhanced. Dedicated desk space for faculty will be added. The existing Discovery Den downstairs near the entrance will be put to better use. And, of course, the number of students will increase.

CU officials are in the process of determining the scope of the next phase of improvements, and what fields of study to add. It's the responsibility of Jonathan Lurie, assistant vice chancellor for program operations, to help “evaluate what new programs might be appropriate” and how they could fit into the existing curriculum taught at CU campuses in Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs, he said.

The university is also exploring business partnerships, museum operations and continuing K-12 outreach.

“We want to make sure we're connecting with folks who are interested in classes, events and collaborative partnerships,” Lurie said.

The school is currently operating under a lease agreement with The Wildlife Experience, a wildlife art museum with interactive educational exhibits that opened in 2003. The museum's founders, Dave and Gail Liniger, donated the museum building to the university in September. CU will officially take over the Liniger Building at CU South Denver Jan. 1.

“The Wildlife Experience will still exist, but it becomes the owner of an art collection that we will have here and that will be really its only function,” said Lisa Douglas, vice chancellor of the south Denver facility.

But that doesn't mean the popular annual functions will go away. For the foreseeable future, the university will maintain the regular schedule of museum events, including “Movie and a Martini” nights and the Art & Ale Brew Festival, and outdoor programs like archery and fishing. The one thing that won't continue on is the traveling exhibits that occupied the north side of the second floor.

Two 40-person classrooms are now in use in the exhibit space, including one outfitted with next-generation teaching technology. CU is using “distance learning” at the south Denver facility, providing a remote connection between its professors and students at other campuses, and vice versa, Douglas said. Students can ask questions and easily interact with faculty.

“The professors in Boulder might not be interested in coming to south Denver, but they could have students here in south Denver that the Boulder faculty is teaching and (those students would) still get the same quality of educational experience without that professor coming down,” Douglas said.

CU South Denver has courses in business, engineering, public health, education and nursing. All but nursing are graduate-level courses intended to provide local industries with continuing education opportunities for employees.

In building its offering of classes, CU is consulting with business leaders and elected officials to determine the best courses. CU recently connected with Lone Tree Mayor Jim Gunning, who said there is high demand in the engineering and technology fields locally.

“We're looking at data and demand. Making it come to reality is a challenge, but there is a lot of information and I think we can grow with that,” Douglas said. “There will be some trial and error and some things won't work out and other things will boom and we're just going to figure it out along the way and get as much feedback as possible.”

The university plans to offer core classes that are often difficult to get into at its Auraria campus in Denver. It is also working closely with the nursing program at CU's Anschutz campus and looking at partnerships with its other campuses.


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