'Economic game-changer': Ground broken on Drexel/Tower Health medical school in Wyomissing - 6/17/2019
Ground was broken Monday morning for the future medical school that will stand on what used to be a parking lot for the former VF Outlet Center in Wyomissing.
The Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health is scheduled to open at The Knitting Mills for the 2020-21 academic year.
According to local officials, it's part of a potential economic boom not only to Wyomissing and West Reading, but to all of Berks County.
“It's an economic game-changer for Reading and Berks,” said county commissioners President Christian Y. Leinbach, who attended the rainy-morning ceremony with several dignitaries, including Tower Health President and CEO Clint Matthews; Drexel University President John Fry; and Dr. Daniel Schidlow, the Drexel College of Medicine dean.
The school is being built on Parcel 9, across the railroad tracks from the former outlet mall.
Tower Health and Drexel signed a 20-year academic agreement in February, and third-year Drexel medical students began their core clinical rotations at Reading Hospital on May 29.
The school will train 200 students and feature traditional classrooms, learning communities and lecture halls, as well as state-of-the-art technology, Tower Health said in a press release. Students will be able to learn via simulated patient rooms, anatomy laboratories and simulation labs. Other features will include a fitness center, a library, a game room and a cafe.
“It is arguably the sixth college or university in the area,” Leinbach said. “That's well above the norm for a county of our size.”
Leinbach said that Drexel would not have signed the deal with Tower without The Knitting Mills redevelopment. He also said that Drexel officials were intrigued by the site being next to railroad tracks and would like passenger-rail service to resume to Berks from Philadelphia with a stop in Wyomissing.
“This is a potential game changer — resuming rail service,” Leinbach said.
The school will also help in keeping Berks' economy diversified.
Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, said that health care is the second-largest sector in Berks by employment with 31,100 workers, putting it just behind manufacturing at 32,200.
Health care is third in gross domestic product for the county, contributing 12.8%.
“Health care as a percentage of the local economy will continue to grow as the population gets older,” Peers said. “Therefore, it's incredibly important from a diversified economy perspective.”
“We have the foundation of what could turn the region into a top-tier medical services region,” Leinbach said. “Up the road we have Penn State Health St. Joseph's, and there's a huge opportunity to see tremendous growth in the medical field.”
Keeping doctors here
Tower Health's Matthews said that the school will help prevent a brain drain from the county, citing a study that found 40% of doctors practice where they went to medical school.
“There's a need for primary care physicians (as the population gets older),” Matthews said. “In all of our markets, there's a deficit of primary care physicians.”
Nationally, he said, there will be a shortage of 120,000 primary care physicians nationwide by 2022.
The medical school is part of a redevelopment boom on the former VF site, which is being rebuilt by Equus Capital Partners.
Teleflex is building a medical device research facility next to the school. Across the railroad tracks, UGI Energy Services' new headquarters in the former Blue building is almost complete, and Sly Fox brewery officially opened its restaurant Sunday. VF Outlet relocated its store into the former Designers Building, and Orthopaedic Associates of Reading has also opened.
Construction is underway on a new Wawa at the corner of Penn and Park avenues.
Peers said the growth could spill outside the immediate area.
“This is the theory of density model," Peers said. "When density is maxed out in a small but desirable geographic area, it will migrate to the next nearest area that can absorb such growth.
“In this case, downtown Reading, the 18th Ward and Buttonwood Gateway are the likely beneficiaries of this migration.”