After a 20-month construction phase and an investment of 167 billion pesos, a mega-project for education is ready to be delivered to Medellín in January 2021. It is the West University Citadel, an infrastructure that adds to the Pedro Nel Gómez University Citadel, with the aim of projecting Medellín as an epicenter to train on issues of 4.0 Industries and creative industries.
The educational complex was developed in the lot that occupied the El Buen Pastor women’s prison, a space between communes 12 (La América) and 13 (San Javier), which comprises around 60 thousand square meters, the equivalent of 57 Olympic swimming pools. Of all that area, 37 thousand square meters are intended for public space and 23 thousand are built area. The project, which has 13 buildings and will house 8 thousand concurrent students, is today 99% complete.
16 multipurpose classrooms, 18 conventional classrooms, an auditorium for 164 people, a 2,300-square-meter library, a theater and two open-air gyms, as well as laboratories, computer centers and more than 300 square meters of habitable terraces, are some of the features that the complex will have.
There is nothing left of what was the prison. A 115-year-old building where women purged sentences, today is a place that is on the verge of materializing and directly supporting three of the strategies of the Medellín Futuro 2020-2023 Development Plan: Software Valley, Educational and Cultural Transformation, and Ecocity.
“This first construction becomes a public facility that will give people spaces to develop their knowledge. It means bringing institutional resources closer to the community and meeting the goals of the Development Plan, ”said Juan David Agudelo, Medellín’s Undersecretary of Education.
Training faced towards the future
According to Agudelo, the citadel will be a space dedicated to science, technology and innovation, which will be framed mainly in the offer of educational programs that are in line with 4.0 Industries and creative industries. To do this, alliances have already been forged with firms such as Platzi, Google, Microsoft, Coursera and LinkedIn, to develop content that supports the courses that will be offered.
“We are talking about the possibility of training in programming, simulation, internet of things (IoT), automation, blockchain and artificial intelligence. Also everything that is developed around art using technological tools and knowledge: architecture, visual and graphic arts, digital animation, etc.”, explained Juan David Agudelo, Medellín’s Undersecretary of Education.
What is expected is to provide specialized, professional, tailored and superior training. However, the undersecretary said that the citadels are not universities as such, but spaces that will facilitate education in shorter periods as well as job placement.
Among the projections is that the Citadels become poles for national and international attraction, events, training programs and knowledge transfer”.Juan David Agudelo, Education undersecretary of Medellin.
Model against dropping out
The West Citadel is the first built within the framework of the public policy for university citadels of Medellín, infrastructures with which it is sought to increase the coverage of higher education. All educational and administrative management of these will be in charge of the Medellín Higher Education Agency (Sapiencia).
However, as clarified by Carlos Chaparro, director of the entity, it is not intended to operate decentralized programs of the universities as if they were headquarters in the citadels, more so its intended to implement a new educational model that aims at formal education through short cycles as is the trend world.
Although details need to be defined, Chaparro explained that the intention is taking some undergraduate courses, according to the interest and profile of the student, and adding others that are complementary in nature. Thus, the student will be able to put together a training route that should not be entirely theoretical but should include practices in laboratories and companies to bring them closer to the demands of the world of employment
This proposal seeks to avoid desertion and increase coverage in higher education, which according to the Quality of Life Report of Medellín 2016-2019 is located at 66 and 68% for undergraduates and postgraduates, respectively. “Young people from stratum 1 and 2 in precarious situations do not see a scholarship as a solution for their future. Due to the pressure to sustain their homes economically, they end up dropping out and searching for (mainly) informal work, because their situation is immediate and urgent. To avoid this, they must be trained in a short and articulated way towards labor insertion ”, said the director of Sapiencia.
Through short but continuous education, young people will have a rapid training that enables them to work in the short term”.Carlos Chaparro, Sapiencia director.
Outlooks on the project
This educational model, and what symbolizes turning a prison into an educational center, has attracted the attention of foreign investors who see Medellín as an example of resilience and renewal in the face of the episodes of violence that the city suffered in the past. Proof of this were the 81 business meetings that were held thanks to the joint work of the ACI Medellín, the APP Agency, Ruta N and the Economic Development Secretariat during the last edition of the Colombia Investment Summit event, an international business conference in which were exposed to strategic projects such as the University Citadel, the 80th Avenue Metro and Parques del Río.
Eleonora Betancur, executive director of ACI Medellín, commented that the event showed the optimism with which international investors see Medellín. Now what follows is to continue supporting the articulation of public and private entities “to make the necessary resources available and finally make business a reality. So we can grow in employment, quality of life and positioning of the city with external audiences ”.
Urbanism and architecture
Wilder Echavarría, manager of the Urban Development Company (EDU), explained that the construction process was a hybrid development in materials, composed of 13 buildings in concrete and steel, with circular and semicircular shapes. “It is a bioclimatic and innovative architecture in accordance to all current ecological trends. It complies with all educational regulations, but the important thing is that it is framed within an area of protection and infrastructure (API) and that it is very much in line with all the ecological connectivity of the place”, he said.
At the beginning of December 2020, the first 12 thousand square meters of public space were delivered for the enjoyment of citizens, with 500 linear meters of bike paths, outdoor gyms and urban real estate. Additionally, in the free space of the citadel there are fields, jogging tracks, playgrounds and other elements to allow the socialization of the community.
Echavarría said, the jail even had a deteriorated 643-square-meter chapel that did not belong to a Medellín diocese. It was decided to repower it and now it can be used as an educational space or to install a Software Valley center at the service of entrepreneurs with capacity for 200 people.
All this transformation of the sector means better conditions of security, tourism and economy; and it will make the area more attractive. “The citadel will generate a whole new social dynamic in the sector, it will increase trade and mobility connections. We want it to fit very well in the city and with projects such as the future 80th Avenue Metro. The idea is that more bicycle paths are gradually created to promote sustainable mobility ”, concluded the EDU manager.
After the physical structures are delivered to the Ministry of Education, together with the EDU, they will begin a phase of complementary works to allow the provision of laboratories, classrooms and spaces. Therefore, according to estimates by Sapiencia, it could be operating after the first quarter of 2021.
It is quite symbolic for Medellín to tear down a prison and build an educational complex of this quality. The territory changes to generate opportunities, more humane conditions and a future for young people”.Wilder Echavarría, manager of the Urban Development Company.
What follows is the construction of the North Citadel (see box). With this, Medellín will complete a strategy that began with the Pedro Nel Gómez University Citadel, located in Robledo and consolidates a new reality that lays the foundations for new opportunities for the youth of Medellín.
Today the designs for the Northern University Citadel are in their final phase, another physical educational infrastructure that is part of this strategy. The building will be located between communes 5 (Castilla) and 6 (Doce de Octubre), on properties adjacent to the Cattle Fair and near the Metrocable Picacho station. Like the one in the west, it will have the capacity to host 8 thousand students. Likewise, during 2021 another citadel will be given free rein, but it will be digital. It will be called At Medellín (@Medellin) and it will be launched between the second or third week of January. Currently, the digital platform is working and up to 25 thousand enrollments are expected.