story by Kim Souza
It took more than two years and $14.2 million to build, but the new 83,000-square-foot Health Professions Center on the campus of NorthWest Arkansas Community College is state-of-the-art.
More than 100 people turned out to the reception and open house of the new facility on Friday afternoon (Jan. 18).
NWACC President Dr. Becky Paneitz said the center was made possible with the generosity of many folks from within the local community who have a passion for making a difference in the lives thousands of students each year.
“Last year NWACC reached 18,000 students through various programs from credit classes to workforce training and other workshops across this region. We are truly the community’s community college,” Paneitz said.
College officials dedicated two areas within the facility to special contributors. The Nursing Simulation Lab was named for Washington Regional Medical Center because of a generous gift which made it possible.
The late Jack Shewmaker stipulated that $200,000 of his $2 million gift to the college years ago be earmarked for the health profession area. Paneitz said that was his wish years ago when NWACC had just one building on campus — Burns Hall.
The new center features a student lounge that was aptly named for the Shewmaker family, Paneitz said.
The first two floors of the massive building were completed and are being utilized by 1,700 students enrolled in programs for five different health professions. This larger facility allowed the college to increase enrollment this semester in those health fields from the 1,350 cap which was previously imposed because of the smaller teaching site.
Paneitz said the third floor was not completed because they “ran out of money.” But she said this gives the college room to expand with more programs in the future as demand dictates and technology changes.
The new facility is the college’s first green building initiative, and they hope to secure a LEED Silver certification — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Jim Lay, director of facilities and construction management at NWACC, said sustainable practices were used throughout the building phase that included sourcing raw materials from within 400 miles and recycling 80% of the materials leaving the job site.
He said 217 tons of material were diverted from landfills during the construction phase. The final ruling on LEED certification required documentation of energy consumption within the new facility.
Lay said an independent consultant will collect that data for the next few months and eventually it will be submitted for certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Ric Clifford, board of trustees chair, told the group this new health center would have a very quick return on investment.
He said with 181 graduates a year earning an average $50,000 in wages it would take roughly two years for the local community to see an economic payback of $18 million.
Paneitz said 90- to 95% of the health professional students stay here and work after graduation.
That was welcomed news to Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, who delivered a short keynote speech at Friday’s ceremony.
“When I first walked into this building I approached a small group of students and asked if they were studying nursing. They said they are physical therapy students. I asked if they planned to stay and work when they graduate and was glad to hear them say they did. I told them my name and asked them to remember it, because I would likely be needing those services in the future,” Bledsoe said.
She aptly pointed out that the demand for health care is only going to increase. And just because someone may have health insurance, does not mean they will automatically have access to heath care.
“Health insurance and health care are not the same thing,” she said.
Bledsoe said the only real solution for the future is to train more health care professionals and she credited NWACC for striving to do just that.