Henry Ford Community College has expanded and relocated its nursing program, and while a number of bumps are still being worked out, the site is now home to hundreds of nursing students.

Classes started in August at the former Ford childcare center at the corner of Schafer and Rotunda. HFCC is calling the 33,000 square-foot nursing school building and the MTECH facility it owns next door the new East Campus.

“This was a very, very aggressive building/remodeling schedule,” said Katherine Howe, associate dean of nursing. The board of trustees approved the $1.6 million remodeling contract in May. The total project cost about $3 million, including buying the building.

Much work needed to be done turn the childcare rooms — complete with tiny toilets and heated floors — into college classrooms, labs, media center, faculty offices and meeting rooms. The original building was constructed in 2001 and looked similar to a separate Ford childcare site on Rotunda east of Oakwood Boulevard, Howe said.

The week before classes started, Howe and the faculty were still moving and workers were scrambling to get ready.

“It’s going to be functional for the students, but it’s going to be challenging the first week,” she said.

Labs were still being set up, and furniture for the media center and other locations was still on order. However, the building was far enough along for students to use, she said.

A sign taped to the window in her office reads “It is what it is” — her motto for the college’s move.

Despite the hassle, Howe said she was honored the college decided to provide such a wonderful new space to the nursing program.

“It has been delightful,” she said.

Faculty worked with the architects to redesign the interior of the building to meet current and future needs. A new lab is available just to nursing assistants. It includes several hospital beds with medical mannequins and a functioning toilet so they can practice helping a patient use the facilities.

Back on the main campus, assistants had to share a lab with the registered nurses program, which limited how many students could be admitted to the assistant program. Now, more sections will probably be added starting in the winter semester, Howe said. The nursing program also may be expanded.

“Our goal is to eventually offer every course every semester,” Howe said.

The nursing program has more than 500 students. It is competing for grant money that would allow it to buy more state-of-the-art equipment, particularly high-fidelity mannequins. The dummies can be programmed to carefully simulate serious code emergencies and challenge students to make the correct observations and responses in a more realistic setting.

A high-fidelity infant mannequin the college already owns can simulate a number of potential problems from unhealthy lung sounds to blue lips, Howe said.

With the new labs, students will be able to use headboard units to provide oxygen or catheters to mannequin patients. Various IV systems are also available.

“It’s real life scenarios. It’s real life equipment,” Howe said.

The nursing school is also watching a state proposal that would allow community colleges to offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“We did build that need into the design of the new building,” Howe said. “I believe they will eventually pass something.” Because of the high demand for nursing and the nature of the classes, it made sense as a “pull out” program to move off the main campus, she said.

Students typically take most of their non-nursing courses while they are on the waiting list to get into the program. And nursing classes are scheduled so other courses would need to be taken in the evening or on weekends, anyway, Howe said.

The building’s new layout also means the college can use the space, or eventually rent out sections, for community functions. A great room features a large fireplace at one end and could be used for meetings or dinner events. A catering kitchen will be added in the next few months to serve such events and to provide food for students, Howe said.

Students and faculty can also enjoy a courtyard at the site, although the benches have not arrived yet. The entire building is already equipped with wireless service for student computers, and tables and chairs provide space for study or meeting. Faculty is talking about reviving community garden plots next year. A more formal grand opening ceremony will probably take place later in the fall.

“It’s an exciting time, and it’s a wonderful space for students,” Howe said.

“I’m proud the college chose to give us this building.”