Palmer College dedicates new $10-million Learning Commons

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Palmer College of Chiropractic on Thursday dedicated the new $10.2-million David D. Palmer Learning Commons.

An uncommon new student center has made a major adjustment in the middle of the Palmer College of Chiropractic campus on Brady Street hill, Davenport.

In time for its annual Homecoming, Palmer leaders, students, staff and supporters gathered Thursday to celebrate the opening of the $10.2-million David D. Palmer Learning Commons, which was completed this past March.

Preserving one of the campus’s original buildings (including uncovered historic arches and brick walls) and blending it with many modern elements, the Learning Commons offers students 75 spaces for individual or group study, and space to practice hands-on techniques in the Evan & Cynthia Beane Learning Lab under faculty supervision. It also features a new, state-of-the-art library designed for the chiropractic student of today.

The centerpiece of the space is a soaring, two-story glass atrium with a grand staircase inspired by spinal anatomy, areas for relaxation and study, and a popular coffee shop called Dave’s Coffee Corner.  

“Our students and faculty have been using the space for a few months now, and we’re getting five-star reviews from everyone on campus,” said Dennis Marchiori, Palmer chancellor and CEO. “When prospective students come from around the world to tour our campus, they’re blown away by what they see. We remind them that there’s more under way in the near future.”

Palmer chancellor and CEO Dennis Marchiori, D.C., Ph.D, speaks at Thursday’s dedication ceremony (photo by Jonathan Turner)

The Learning Commons is named after David D. Palmer (1906-1978), grandson of college founder and chiropractic inventor D.D. Palmer (1845-1913). “Dr. Dave” worked tirelessly to designate the school as a nonprofit, accredited higher-education institution. He was responsible for professionalizing the college and setting the vision for what it has become today.

Marchiori credited Dr. Trevor Ireland, Palmer’s board chair, and Palmer provost Dan Weinert for their vision and passion for the project.

“These folks have been pushing the administration to create magnet spaces like this, that are focused on student learning and student experiences,” Marchiori said, also praising architects Studio 483, RDG Planning & Design, and builder Estes Construction.

“This is a physical representation of Palmer’s commitment to student success, as we prepare the best chiropractors in the world,” he said. The new Commons is a tribute to “Dr. Dave,” and “the tremendous impact he’s had on our profession, this campus and the community,” Marchiori said, noting the goal was to create a hub for student learning on campus.

A view from the new library at Palmer College (Jonathan Turner).

“This campus is absolutely gorgeous and from the moment I started here, in July 2019, there have been constant updates,” said Kate McKenzie, a student from Ontario, Canada, who is vice president of alumni engagement for the Palmer Student Alumni Foundation. “This space here is probably one of my favorites.”

“I know this space means a lot to students,” she said, loving the Dave’s Coffee Corner, library and many study areas. “Today, this space is one of the most highly-used spaces on campus. I know it wouldn’t be possible without all of our donors.”

Dave’s Coffee Corner in the new David D. Palmer Learning Commons (Jonathan Turner).

Charles Keller, D.C., a 1955 Palmer graduate, committed a $1 million gift to his alma mater last year to support students. “It’s an extraordinary gift from an extraordinary person,” said Marchiori. “Throughout his life, Dr. Keller has given to both Palmer and the profession through his time, expertise and treasure. Future generations will know Dr. Keller’s name and the compassion with which he treated each patient—and person—he came across.”

Thursday, he also credited other generous project donors, the largest of whom are honored in a permanent tribute wall on the main floor.

“My father would be so proud, as I am, to see how Palmer College of Chiropractic has grown on the foundation he built during his tenure as president,” Vickie Anne Palmer, longtime board member and a daughter of David D. Palmer, said Thursday.

Former Palmer College board chair (and daughter of David D. Palmer) Vickie Anne Palmer speaking at Thursday’s ceremony for the new Learning Commons (Jonathan Turner).

Besides chiropractic, Dr. Dave was a broadcast pioneer with his father, B.J. Palmer, launching the first commercial radio station west of the Mississippi. WOC first broadcast in 1922, and David Palmer opened a Prohibition-era hotspot called Dave’s Barn, in 1929 at 11th Street between Brady and Main. Next to the new Dave’s Coffee Corner, there is a wall with photos and information on the popular dance hall and rustic restaurant, which closed in 1933.

Photos and history of the Prohibition-era hotspot Dave’s Barn adorn a wall next to Dave’s Coffee Corner (Jonathan Turner).

When he took the helm of Palmer in 1961, he changed the formal name from Palmer School of Chiropractic to Palmer College, Vickie said, raising the educational standards for students and faculty.

“He worked tirelessly to accomplish the goal of professional and regional accreditation,” she said. “This space is the embodiment of his vision.”

It’s fitting the Commons is named for her father, which allows Palmer to maintain its “premier position as the world’s best chiropractic college. My father was daring and driven. It’s how he propelled the college into the future.”

Looking to 125th anniversary with growth

One year from now, Palmer-educated chiropractors will converge on the Quad Cities to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Palmer. And when they do, alumni will return to a campus that’s invested millions of dollars in learning spaces, technology, scholarships and more.

Unlike anything chiropractic students will find elsewhere, the new David D. Palmer Learning Commons and an outdoor terrace are part of the college’s commitment to enhancing the student experience in the classroom and the clinic—and outside of them as well.

A group study room features a historic photo of past Palmer leaders, including B.J. Palmer, seated second from left (Jonathan Turner).

“I might be biased, but this is an extraordinarily exciting time to be part of Palmer College,” Marchiori said. “Our college is committed to innovating for—and investing in—our students and their experience. The new David D. Palmer Learning Commons and Charles & Hildegarde Keller Terrace are just two ways we’re driving our college and the chiropractic profession forward.”

The new terrace (still under construction) — an outdoor space accessible from the Learning Commons — will offer students respite from their classes and studies. Outdoor couches and tables will be surrounded by a terrace filled with greenery.

Born in New York City, Dr. Keller was first introduced to chiropractic by a German woman practicing in the city. That chiropractor had a dramatic impact on his mother’s health and wellbeing, which spurred the young New Yorker “to trade the skyscrapers of New York City for the cornfields of Iowa,” according to Palmer.

Dr. Charles Keller, a 1955 Palmer College alumnus.

The Commons was created from the shell of the former 1920 B.J. Palmer outpatient clinic. “I can’t think of a more perfect ethos for students to study chiropractic than in this space,” Marchiori said. The large arches in the main airy atrium were discovered during construction, which had been covered up, he said.

Arches from the original 1920 Palmer clinic were restored in the new building (Jonathan Turner).

“We’re so happy to bring back this original architecture so that we can all be inspired by it,” he said. “We’re very thrilled by this space, and all that it represents. Since construction of this space was completed in March of 2021, I can tell you that our students are using it. This space was packed from the moment we turned the lights on.”

“I don’t know how we functioned as a campus without this space previously for 124 years,” Marchiori said. “We knew this was something that this campus desperately needed. This is an area for the modern student to come together and collaborate in their learning. Today’s students, they are collaborative and cooperative. Having a space like this, that functionally supports that need for students to work together, to learn chiropractic.”

He learned in the former outpatient clinic when he was a Palmer student 35 years ago, and that history (working within its original bricks and mortar) is inspiring for students. “It’s an outstanding asset for the Quad Cities and for Palmer College,” Marchiori said.

“It was completely renovated, down from a concrete shell,” he said. “Not only the physical space, but the IT that’s in this building is really impressive.”

Marchiori also loves how the architects echoed the original arches in the large arched windows in the new library.

While Palmer has attracted students (currently totaling 900) from around the U.S. and the world, the new facility will help drive that even more, serving as a magnet, the chancellor said. “Immediately upon seeing the improvements of the Learning Commons and other aspects of what we’ve been able to do on campus, this has been a very positive asset for the college.”

The stairway in the Learning Commons was designed to evoke the bones in the spinal column, a core anatomy for chiropractic students (Jonathan Turner).

Next to the new library, construction is under way on a $10.2-million Experiential Learning Center that will be home to all of the campus’s technique, gross anatomy and virtual anatomy labs, to open next March. Across the street, a $22.9-million student housing complex will provide space for up to 139 students (starting in July 2022), and a new athletic field that represents a $2.6 million investment is also underway.

At Palmer’s campus in Port Orange, Florida, the college is nearing completion of a $17.3-million academic building to meet the rising enrollment demands of Palmer Florida. The new space will offer additional technique rooms, a larger anatomy learning environment, and virtual- and augmented-reality learning tools.

“What we can accomplish is only possible because of the contributions alumni and friends make to the college,” Dr. Marchiori noted. “We continue to see incredible generosity from our alumni and friends, which only affirms our vision for the future.”

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