Groundbreaking for health sciences building set for Sept. 3

Above: Rendering of WCU's health sciences building

Above: Rendering of WCU’s health sciences building

The groundbreaking ceremony for a $46 million, 160,000-square-foot health sciences building – the first facility to be constructed as part of Western Carolina University’s Millennial Initiative – will be held Thursday, Sept. 3, at the construction site off of Little Savannah Road. Parking is not available at the site.

Shuttle buses will depart at 12:10 p.m. and 12:25 p.m. from the McKee Building on campus. Attendees are encouraged to wear comfortable, flat-heeled shoes for walking on a recently graded dirt surface.

The new four-story health sciences facility will bring under one roof state-of-the-art classrooms, clinical and laboratory spaces, and offices and meeting areas for College of Health and Human Sciences’ programs that are currently located across four buildings.

“Construction of this building represents an important milestone for the College of Health and Human Sciences as well as Western Carolina University,” said Linda Seestedt-Stanford, dean of the college. “This will be the first structure on the new part of campus and the flagship for adjacent buildings in the health neighborhood.”

The Millennial Initiative, a comprehensive regional economic development strategy, involves developing neighborhoods anchored by an academic building and surrounded by related private industry and government partners. In a recent agreement, WestCare Health System formally expressed interest in leasing space in a building to be constructed in the new health sciences neighborhood. The neighborhoods will expand partnership opportunities that enhance hands-on student learning, and collaborative research and development of scientific and technological innovations with potential commercial applications.

WCU staff members helped write the original legislation that passed in 2000 authorizing University of North Carolina system institutions to designate a Millennial Campus. The state awarded money in 2005 to design the health and human sciences building and in 2007 to build it. A construction contract was entered this spring, and site preparation is under way.

“We have many, many people to thank for this innovative, state-of-the-art building,” said Chancellor John W. Bardo. “Within its walls, our students, faculty, health care partners and community members together will be part of challenging, hands-on educational experiences that truly prepare our students to be insightful, service-oriented and collaborative health care professionals working within and for our increasingly global community.”

Stanford expects the facility to open in January 2012, housing about 80 faculty members and serving more than 1,000 students in graduate and undergraduate programs, including nursing, social work, physical therapy, athletic training, environmental health, health information administration, nutrition and dietetics, emergency medical care, recreational therapy, and communication sciences and disorders.

The building will have 13 classrooms, 20 program-specific laboratories, five research laboratories, specialized outpatient health and rehabilitation clinics, offices, gathering spaces and a coffeehouse restaurant.

Among unique features of the building are extensive videoconferencing and telemedicine capabilities, a pool for teaching and performing aquatic therapy and a video production studio. Faculty members will be able to view live video feeds of interaction between patients and students, and host guest speakers who are off-site.

“The building will allow both the physical assimilation of our health programs as well as the interdisciplinary cross-fertilization, an essential element necessary in the education of future health professionals,” said Stanford.

In addition, the building’s size and parking will allow for growth of clinics previously limited by space, such as the Speech and Hearing Center, and development of unique clinics that support community needs. Also, university and health care partners are discussing the possibility of creating specialty clinics such as a fall and balance center and dysphasia clinic, said Stanford.