Expanding on the growth of allied health programs in the region, two area colleges are readying for new construction that will add additional infrastructure to support the high-demand curriculums.
The University of North Carolina Wilmington broke ground on its new $66 million Veterans Hall on Thursday. And Brunswick Community College now has designs in the works for its new $5.7 million Allied Health Facility Project. Both facilities are slated to be ready for faculty and students in 2020.
In its strategic planning meetings with community stakeholders in 2003, 2008, 2012 and 2016, expansion of BCC's allied health programs and facilities were consistently cited as the No. 1 priority, college president Susanne Adams said in a statement about the project Thursday.
“Until now, however, funding such an expansion has been unobtainable,” she said. The college is now able to move forward with the support from the $2.9 million allocated through the ConnectNC Bond approved by state voters in 2016 and money from the college’s fund balance reserve.
The college is also signing over the deed to the South Brunswick Island Center to Brunswick County, in exchange for $1.7 million from the county. The measure was added in an amendment to the agreement made between the college and the county in May and was approved by commissioners at their Jan. 16 meeting.
With the funds, Adams said, the college is able to repurpose an existing 12,160-square-foot building and add 13,750 square feet of new space to the building. The renovation and new construction will house the college’s six allied health programs.
“I think one goal of the project is offering our students state-of-the-art instruction facilities in the current programs. An additional goal we have is to add new programs,” Adams said.
Another benefit of the project is that the college will be able to relocate programs that are "now cramped for space," she said.
"It’s very much like a domino effect. I think it’s important for our allied health programs to have a visible home that will relieve some stress on our trades programs ... so we can have a trade center,” Adams said.
The BCC expansion is also beneficial for students in that graduates into health care professions “have the ability to earn $10,000 more annually than the average wage earner in Brunswick County,” she said. "This partnership between the college and the county is an excellent way for us to satisfy the needs of our local residents. By 2020, Brunswick County will see a 30 percent increase in individuals 65 and older. Thus, it is imperative that Brunswick County continues to grow its ability to offer quality healthcare locally."
Wilmington firm Sawyer, Sherwood & Associate Architecture is currently working on designs for the college's new Allied Health building, according to Jack Luciano, executive director of facility services for BCC. Designs are nearing completion with the college eyeing bid for construction in March with a 14-month construction to follow. The project is estimated to be completed by February 2020.
"We’re excited to get it done and help our nursing program grow, since that’s where the demand is,” Luciano said.
UNCW will also be able to support demands in the region with its growing enrollment in its allied health programs, officials said.
Richard Ogle, the university's senior associate provost for academic affairs, said in an email Thursday that demand is "very strong for nursing, athletic training, exercise science, social work and clinical research."
"In North Carolina and across the nation, there is a large and growing demand for allied health professionals," Ogle said.
The new building is necessary to meet that demand by creating "much-needed classroom space, applied learning laboratories and faculty offices for departments – while training health providers as well as some of the disciplines that support that training (e.g. biology and chemistry)," he said.
The university needs the additional space to meet existing demand as well as accommodate growing demand in the future, he said.
Mark Morgan, associate vice chancellor for business affairs-facilities, said the project "aligns with our strategic plan ... it's all tied to enrollment growth and growth of the allied health program."
UNCW's College of Health and Human Services, which will be housed in the new building, includes the schools of nursing, social work and allied health and exercise. All of those areas have been on the rise in recent years, Chancellor Jose Sartarelli said last Wednesday, when it was announced that UNCW's bachelor's of science in nursing program online was ranked nationally
as one of the largest in terms of enrollment.
"Those three schools have grown from about 1,500 students in 2010 to more than 3,600 students today," he said previously.
The building will also house the university's Military Affairs office, Morgan said. To honor veterans, it will be called Veterans Hall.
The added space will allow the university to decompress from the “tight amount of space” currently on the grounds, Morgan said, adding that the space “also has future programs in mind as well – programs that are in development.”
Ogle said new programs that are specialties within the university's current health and human services portfolio can be developed.
"For instance, we just received approval for a master’s in athletic training. We currently have a BS degree in this area," he said. "We can also expand our programs within nursing ... we can better accommodate our master’s in nurse education program, as well as the potential for others. This idea also extends to programs like public health and health care administration.
"So, I think it is fair to say that this building will allow for us to develop programs that are needed in our region and beyond, and that are consistent with UNCW and CHHS strategic priorities," Ogle said.
Though the groundbreaking is taking place Thursday, the first phase of construction of the 145,000-square-foot building will not begin until sometime in March, according to Morgan. The construction is estimated to take 20-24 months with completion slated for January 2020. The project is also funded through the ConnectNC bond.
(Pictured above, UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli is shown with UNCW Board of Trustees chairwoman Wilma Daniels at the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo courtesy of UNCW)