The $42 million health campus planned in downtown Kalamazoo holds the potential to simultaneously address a number of issues for the project’s partners.
At the top of the list: The campus could provide one possible long-term contribution toward reversing the growing incidence rates of obesity and related chronic diseases such as diabetes. By expanding its curriculum and providing a setting that focuses on wellness and how to produce a sustainable food supply, Kalamazoo Valley Community College hopes to affect the overall health of the community in the long run.
The project fits with KVCC’s efforts “to increase community understanding of and access to healthy food and nutrition.”
“Working with our partners and multiple community groups, our goal will be to impact the health of our communities by providing the next generation of culinary and agriculture leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to work at the intersection of health, environmental and social concerns,” said KVCC President Marilyn Schlack.
Kalamazoo Valley Community College is teaming up with Bronson Healthcare Group and Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to develop the downtown campus that will focus on wellness and food sustainability. The project will expand KVCC’s programs by offering training in sustainable food production, distribution and preparation, as well as urban farming.
Bronson donated the 13.3 acres of land for the campus, which will include three facilities: One to house food and distribution programs; the second for nursing, allied health and culinary programs; and the third for a new psychiatric clinic for Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, whose clients can work at the agricultural operations at the campus.
KVCC is also talking with the city about plans for improvements to the Bank Street Farmer’s Market.
The college expects to begin construction next spring and open the new campus in 2015.
The project illustrates how “the role of a community college is to respond to the needs of the community and employers,” said Linda Depta, director of college relations at KVCC.
“It’s incumbent on us to respond to problems with others,” Depta sad. “We really hope to be a national model in how communities, by working together, can address those concerns.”
Among the problems: an obesity rate in Kalamazoo County that has risen along with state and national averages.
As of 2013, 29 percent of adults in Kalamazoo County were obese and 9 percent were diagnosed diabetics, according to countyhealthrankings.org, a website sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that tracks and reports health data on communities nationally. Data show 9 percent of Kalamazoo County residents also had limited access to healthy foods.
The potential to bend those trends spurred Bronson Healthcare Group’s interest in the project.
“Catalyzing community health — that’s what this is all about,” said Senior Vice President Mike Way. “More people living a better life is the ultimate vision.”
Additional “incredible benefits” for Bronson include the potential to tap the new nurses, therapists and other health care professionals that will receive training nearby the hospital; the campus can help the health system meet a goal to source from local sources 50 percent of the food used at its facilities, up from the present 30 percent; and finally seeing redevelopment on what Way calls a “blighted” parcel in downtown that’s been vacant for more than a decade.
“Without something like this, that area may have sat blighted for another 20 or 30 years,” Way said. “The thought of putting to use a parcel like that is just phenomenal.”
The site, located adjacent to and just south of Bronson’s hospital campus, sits along Portage Creek and is split by Upjohn Park.
Looking well into the future, Way believes the partnership forged around the health campus can lead to further ventures.
“I think we’ll be amazed in 10 years looking back at what’s going on on that campus and all around it,” he said. “There are things that can happen there that we haven’t even imagined.”