Bold new Rutgers science and nursing building looks like good medicine in downtown Camden

The nursing and science building Rutgers University is constructing at Fifth and Federal Streets in Camden will offer state of-the-art classroom, laboratory and collaborative learning space for about 1,000 students.

"And that's to start," says  Joanne Robinson, RN, dean of the School of Nursing at Rutgers-Camden.

"We're going to grow a bit," Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon adds. 

The two were among about 30 officials from the university, county, and city who took a hard-hat tour with the media Thursday. 

Ahead of an expected opening next spring, and with work about 80 percent completed, the $62.5 million project already is a dramatic presence in downtown Camden.

The building is big -- four stories, 200,000 square feet -- and has a jazzy triangular shape with a corner suggesting the prow of a ship.  It's got a stylish dash of attitude.

Perhaps the most striking fact is the location: On a swath of streetscape left vacant and forlorn for decades after the city demolished a  once-thriving retail strip along Federal in the name of urban renewal.

(In a welcome nod to the 500 block's mercantile heritage, the nursing and science building will include three storefronts, totaling 9,000 square feet along Federal.)

"My grandmother used to bring me downtown to Woolworth's across from City Hall as a little girl," Mayor Dana Redd says. "They had a lunch counter. So many memories."

The nursing and science building "is spectacular," adds the mayor. "It's remarkable to see the design aspects and the lecture hall space.  This is a game-changer that could attract other investment to downtown."

The project will not merely help fill a highly visible gap in in a city full of vacant ground. "This will be a huge upgrade of our clinical learning spaces," Robinson notes.

"Right now we've got three labs scattered all over Camden. We've got half our equipment stored, because there just isn't space. This will really explode our capacity."

Needless to say "eds and meds" developments alone cannot re-create downtown as a destination. Particularly in a city where so much has been obliterated.

But the past can linger,  as  Georgia Kyrifides, the university's senior director for project services, learned.

While researching the Fifth and Federal site, she discovered a family connection: The block once was home to a popular restaurant called Lintonia, owned by an uncle of her mother's.

"It's exciting," says Kyrifides, who grew up in New York and lives in North Jersey. 

"I feel closer to Camden."