ASU’s latest downtown Phoenix endeavor helps fulfill the school’s mission of social transformation by giving low-income people access to the care and services they need at the landmark Westward Ho, President Michael M. Crow said Tuesday.
University leaders, city and state officials, and building residents were among the hundreds gathered Tuesday for the grand opening of the Collaboratory on Central, a teaching clinic for the various colleges and disciplines represented on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, which include nursing, nutrition, nonprofit and social work.
“Many universities think of themselves as a sequestered place where you remove yourself from society,” Crow said. “Our conceptualization is a university that is on the frontline.”
“We are not a place but a force,” he said.
The Westward Ho, for decades, has been a low-income housing complex, but before that it had been one of the region’s premier destinations and tourist attractions. Built in 1928, it played host to some of the most famous icons of the 20th century, including Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, actors Clark Gable, Jackie Gleason, George Burns and John Wayne and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today, many in the community experience poverty, homelessness, undetected and untreated health conditions, and substance-use disorders. Residents will be able to receive assistance with these and other problems, often from students, at the Collaboratory. University leaders hope to be able to expand the outreach in the near future.
“This is what a great university does — it wraps its arms around the community and asks, ‘What can we do to help? And how can we make the community around us better?” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said.
“We’re a better city because of ASU.”
The 15,000-square-foot Collaboratory, which occupies the first floor of the building, represents a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary space that brings together research, learning and service. ASU students will work with professionals to provide psycho-social and health services. The space will also create more continuing education, technical assistance and consulting opportunities for government and nonprofit agencies.
The main tenant is ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy. The center takes a wider view of health for its 300 clients, many of whom are poor, sick, elderly or disabled.
The 16-story Westward Ho closed its doors in 1980 and reopened as a low-income housing complex the following year.
In creating the Collaboratory, the first floor was renovated. At the center of that overhaul is the Art Deco-style Concho Room, a once-glamorous cocktail lounge where the rich and famous gathered.
Not only will the new space be the hub of planned social activities for tenants, but it will provide a gathering space for health and human service professionals and organizations, conferences and workshops and public events hosted by ASU.
“Everybody likes new buildings, but I will confess that I think there’s something more exciting about breathing life into an old building,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
Kaylee Bouck, a 21-year-old nursing major, has been working in the interdisciplinary space since early August, performing blood-pressure checks, health check-ups and monitoring medication.
“It’s been a great opportunity for me to work with students in other disciplines, and we’re meeting the needs of the residents more effectively,” she said.
Bouck recently helped institute a walking program with residents and said she enjoys their enthusiasm.
“They enjoy talking to us, and we have the time to spend with them,” Bouck said. “The residents have taught me a wide variety of life experiences, and I’m able to learn from that.”
Michael Shafer, director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and a professor in the School of Social Work, said the Collaboratory is functioning as it should but has experienced a few blips along the way. He said an electronic health-record system should have been put in place before the opening. He has also witnessed overlap in regards to the scheduling of patients. He said those issues can be fixed and that overall he’s very pleased with the operation.
“We’re flying an airplane, and we’re building it the same time we’re flying,” Shafer said. “And it’s pretty invigorating.”