Officials with the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) dedicated the 66,000-square foot College of Health Sciences facility Monday (Dec. 6) both ahead of and behind schedule.
Kyle Parker, president and CEO of Fort Smith-based ACHE, said the “majestic” building is the home to ACHE’s two newest programs, School of Physical Therapy and the School of Occupational Therapy.
“These programs were always in the masterplan with an anticipated start date of 2023. Yes, you heard me, 2023. And yet, here we are in December of 2021 with our inaugural class of doctor of physical therapy students completing their second semester of classes and our doctor of occupational therapy students set to arrive on campus Jan. 6,” Parker said at the dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony Monday.
Though the building was completed in January 2020 and opened its doors to students that August, the dedication event was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thanks to our amazing faculty and staff, COVID did not interrupt our students’ classes, their rotations, their Match Day, or their graduation. The only thing COVID affected was the dedication of this building. So inside, you’ll find memorabilia for you labeled Ribbon Cutting and Dedication 2020. But we think this serves as a great reminder of all that we’ve overcome and accomplished together,” Parker said of the delayed building.
The dedication may have been delayed because of the pandemic, but the College of Health Sciences, which cost $25 million, including furniture, fixtures and equipment, came about five years earlier than anticipated thanks to a sizable donation.
“One cold, dreary December day in 2016, I gave a tour to a family that I have known my entire life. This extraordinary family had made a sizable contribution to the (Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine) building, like a $14 million contribution, so I was giving the family a tour of the completed facility,” Parker said.
At the end of the tour, Parker mentioned the “what’s next” for ACHE would be a new building to house the college’s physical therapy and occupational therapy programs, if research results came in as expected. He said they hoped to break ground on the building in 2021.
“Now remember, this is 2016. We finished our tour, and as they left, I was standing at the window of my office and saw their car stopped at the stop sign. About that time, my phone rang, and my first thought – they forgot their umbrella. I answered and this precious voice said to me, ‘Now, Kyle, how much is that second building going to cost to build?’ I answered, $16 million. There was a brief pause, and she responded, I’ll get you a check,” Parker said.
ACHE’s first college, ARCOM graduated its inaugural class of 145 osteopathic medical students on May 15. The School of Physical Therapy welcomed its first class of 36 students in June. The three-year program features a hands-on approach to learning and 32 weeks of full-time clinical rotations.
The ACHE School of Occupational Therapy will greet its inaugural class in January 2022. Administration is in the process of making final offers to students for the program, which will have a maximum class size of 36 students. Students in the inaugural class will graduate in May 2025, said Dr. Jennifer Moore, dean of the School of Occupational Therapy. Moore said the newly dedicated building represents a way of teaching. It was “thoughtfully and intentionally” designed with education of the students in mind.
“The occupational therapy classrooms mirror actual settings where the graduates will practice. For example, a classroom can look like an inpatient rehabilitation center, a person’s home, or a pediatric outpatient setting. In addition, we have an interprofessional clinic on site where occupational therapy and physical therapy students can learn side by side as they will do in many settings when they graduate,” Moore said.
The clinic is a pro-bono clinic located on the first floor of the school.
She said the addition of the occupational therapy program helps fulfill the vision of ACHE by producing graduates who will meet the healthcare needs of the community.
“This building means improved health and well-being for those in the (Arkansas) River valley and beyond. The demand for occupational therapy is significant and our graduates will help individuals they serve live meaningful, productive and healthful lives,” Moore said.