Mayor Rahm Emanuel (center right) meets with Malcolm X administrators and instructors during the Jan. 7 ribbon-cutting on the college's new campus. | Photo submitted

Austin resident Crystal Howard, 33, said she was lured into the healthcare field because of the promising job prospects and a family role model.

“I had a little talk with myself and I said, ‘Self, you need a career path. What is it going to be?’ I knew I didn’t necessarily want to go into nursing, but I saw in my community people struggling with cardiopulmonary diseases. I wanted to be an advocate for them and help save some lives,” she said.

“I also have an aunt who manages the respiratory department at a local hospital. It’s just great to see people who come from the same places you come from and walk in that path, it gives the children in our community so much hope.”

Now into her second and last academic year as a respiratory care major at Malcolm X College, Howard’s timing is serendipitous. She’ll be among the first students to learn in the college’s new $251 million, 544,000 square-foot facility.

The college’s old location was purchased from the city by the neighboring Chicago Blackhawks (the United Center, the Blackhawks’s home, sits the span of a parking lot away from the school) for what could be a net sale of $16 million, according to reports. The team plans to demolish the building and construct a $50 million practice center, along with an expansion of Rush University.

Malcolm X is the health care education hub of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) system, a network of seven community colleges and six satellite locations throughout the city. According to David Sanders, Malcolm X College’s interim president, the new building would be a “game changer” for the institution, which intends on providing training opportunities for the estimated 84,000 new healthcare employees who are projected to work in Chicago over the next decade.

“We’re one of the lowest cost community colleges in the state, but what we’ve been working on since Chancellor Cheryl L. Hyman came on is enhancing the quality of what we offer and ensuring our programs are relevant,” Sanders said during an interview last month.

“We think we have a game-changer [in this new facility],” he said. “It allows us to compete with institutions such as the University of Chicago, Loyola University and DePaul University for students who might consider us as the place to go their first two years. Plus, we have an articulation agreement with 12 different universities, so if you complete your studies here, you can transfer all your credits over to that four-year college, based on the agreements we have with them. So, you won’t be losing any ground by coming to us first.”

Sanders said the new and improved Malcolm X is part of CCC’s 5-year, $524 million capital improvement project, through which administrators are seeking to upgrade a multitude of campus facilities within the system.

Sanders touted the new facility’s design features and the diversity reflected in the construction process. The expansive new compound includes an 8-story health sciences tower that will house the 17 healthcare programs the college offers and a four-story academic building for its other continuing learning and adult education programs.

Construction on the facility began in September 2013, with a scheduled completion date of January 2016, a timeline Sanders said had been largely met, since most of the facility is currently in use.

City Colleges worked with Chicago-based Moody Nolan, the largest African-American-owned architecture firm in the country, to achieve LEED Gold standards — a rain water harvesting system, a green roof and water efficient plumbing are some of the environmentally sensitive design features.

The interim president said that 51 percent of the total hours spent building the new facility were logged by minority trade workers and 37 percent of the contractors were from minority-owned business.

The health care education wing of the new campus features a replica of a fully functioning hospital unit, replete with an ambulance simulator, sterile processing rooms, operating rooms, decontamination rooms, and top-of-the-line digital manikins that cost $80,000 each and are able to simulate human body functions and diseased states — even seizures and heart attacks.

Howard said the state-of-the-art equipment, and the true-to-life medical scenarios they help recreate, are perhaps the most notable advancement the new campus has over the old one.

“The old Malcolm X had great opportunities and the same great programs, but now we get to take advantage of the simulation babies and simulation adults and the high-tech equipment — we’ll have access to all of that. We as students are going to be ready. When we walk out of those doors, there should be no excuse not to know what to do during a seizure, for instance. You can’t say you’ve never seen it.”