Spokane’s historic SIERR building sees new life as a high-tech center for the health sciences.
In its day, the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad was among the most popular regional “interurbans” in Washington, using its electric rail cars to connect thousands of passengers to points between Spokane and Moscow, Idaho.
Cars eventually doomed the service. But its gorgeous, expertly restored rail-repair facility remains in downtown Spokane, a red-brick landmark that — thanks in part to EWU’s participation — is now home to new forms of community service.
Earlier this fall EWU’s new School of Nursing, along with its Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders, set up shop in the building, officially known as the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad building, or SIERR. For both programs, the move promises to up the ante on collaborative learning experiences.
Earlier this fall EWU’s new School of Nursing, along with its Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders, set up shop in the building, officially known as the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad building, or SIERR.
An Oct. 24 ribbon cutting and open house event brought together many of those responsible for both the SIERR restoration and Eastern’s move to the facility. Among them was Dean Allen, chief executive officer of McKinstry Co.
Allen — a visionary health-care advocate and developer of energy efficient buildings — was the force behind turning the 70,000-square-foot building into, first, an LEED-certified office space and, now, a state-of-the-art health science education center. He had long championed the redevelopment of the aging SIERR structure. McKinstry purchased it for its own Spokane home in 2006, and it soon became a model of efficiency, demonstrating that historic buildings can, as Allen says, “be gentle on the environment and serve as exemplars for others to follow.”
More recently, Allen said he was determined to move his company’s operations out of the building to make way for a health-sciences focused “innovation hub.”
“The hardest thing about this project,” Allen told visitors at the ribbon cutting, “was explaining to the people of McKinstry that we wanted to make a real impact in health education. And that to make a difference in rural health equity, we needed to leave our building.”
For Eastern students and faculty (who are joined at SIERR by programs from UW and Gonzaga) being under one roof will indeed provide great opportunities to collaborate, said Lindsay Williams, an EWU lecturer and off-site placement coordinator. “Our classrooms are fantastic — and our technology works all the time. I also like that we are all together,” she said.
David Bowman, dean of the College of Science, Technology and Mathematics and interim dean of the College of Health Science and Public Health, thanked political leaders for their support, while emphasizing the impact Eastern’s nursing graduates will have in the region. And yet, he said, SIERR, and the work happening there, will be much bigger than one program or even one university.
“The vision for this building is really interprofessional,” he said. “It is truly a place for collaboration.”