Although Western Carolina University is weeks away from holding an official groundbreaking celebration to mark the beginning of construction on its $46 million health sciences building, the project already is attracting the attention of possible partners from the health care industry.
The board of trustees of WestCare Health System recently signed an agreement formally expressing the regional medical system’s intent to lease or purchase approximately 25,000 square feet of office space in a proposed multitenant structure that would be built adjacent to the new home for the university’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
When completed in 2012, the 160,000-square-foot health sciences building is expected to serve as the cornerstone of a new neighborhood focusing on health care, where students and faculty will study and teach alongside a mixed-use area that could include health care providers, medical device companies and specialized clinics.
It would be the first of several “neighborhoods of interest” to be developed on 344 acres of property located across N.C. Highway 107 from the university’s main campus as part of the Millennial Initiative. A comprehensive regional economic development strategy, the initiative involves developing neighborhoods anchored by an academic building and surrounded by related private industry and government partners.
Mark Leonard, president and chief executive officer of WestCare Health System, said the recent agreement with WCU represents his organization’s commitment to partnering with the university to create a new health-centered neighborhood.
“This letter of intent is a positive demonstration that WestCare and WCU want to move forward with this concept,” Leonard said. “When completed, this new building will be beneficial to both WCU and WestCare and to all of Western North Carolina.”
Officials from WCU and WestCare will conduct a feasibility analysis for the proposed multitenant facility, a study that will include identifying potential private developers interested in building the project. Depending upon the results of that analysis, a detailed plan for a new building could be ready by January 2010, said Chuck Wooten, WCU’s vice chancellor for administration and finance.
“We are pleased that our friends at WestCare have expressed this interest in potentially bringing some of their health care activities and services to our campus,” Wooten said. “If our study determines that this project is economically feasible, WestCare’s involvement would be an important step in developing the type of health care neighborhood that we have envisioned rising around our new academic building.”
Site preparation is now under way for the four-story health and human sciences building, which will feature 13 classrooms, 20 dedicated laboratory spaces, four research laboratories and a multidisciplinary clinic providing outpatient health and rehabilitation services. The facility will bring under one roof 11 programs from the College of Health and Human Sciences ranging from physical therapy to nursing.
“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.”
An official groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at the building’s site, located off of Little Savannah Road in Cullowhee.
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Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009