Patient Care Center receives warm reception amid wintry weather

by | Feb 24, 2015

About 150 optometry students, faculty, alumni and others from the UMSL community and beyond gathered Friday to celebrate the groundbreaking of the $17 million, 48,000-square-foot center.
UMSL student Laurie Thompson

Laurie Thompson, a third-year optometry student at UMSL, discusses the new Patient Care Center before a crowd of about 150 at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A little inclement weather didn’t deter the enthusiasm Friday that had swelled up within the College of Optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. The college, which began 35 years ago, had been promised new facilities almost since day one of its existence. And now it was getting one in the Patient Care Center.

“This is a project that has been sometime coming,” said UMSL Chancellor Tom George. “It’s what I would call the first step of a dream. And the dream is something even larger that’s going to involve both optometry and nursing.”

About 150 optometry students, faculty and alumni, and members from throughout the UMSL, nearby and legislative communities gathered Friday at the former Ward E. Barnes Library to celebrate the groundbreaking of the $17 million, 48,000-square-foot center. Through floor-to-high-ceiling glass, those in attendance had a climate-controlled 180-degree view of the frozen, snow-covered South Campus earth. It was the next best thing to being outside.

Larry Davis, dean of the College of Optometry at UMSL

Larry Davis, dean of the College of Optometry at UMSL (Photos by August Jennewein)

“You’ve heard of air guitar,” said College of Optometry Dean Larry Davis, grinning. “We’re going to do air shovel.”

And the 16 dignitaries did just that, playfully pantomiming a dirtless dig ceremony. The actual location of the Patient Care Center will be adjacent to the Music Building on South Campus along Natural Bridge Road.

“The site that we are going to construct is the site of the old Normandy Hospital,” Davis said. “Many of you will remember that from the past. It has come full circle. The community will have health care available there again in the not-so-distant future.”

St. Louis-based ICS Construction Services will break ground on the Patient Care Center as soon as the ground thaws with an anticipated completion date of fall 2016. The center, designed by HOK, will consist of 32 eye exam and treatment lanes, nine primary health-care treatment rooms and space for lease partners from complementary health disciplines. The project is phase one of a multiphase project that, when finished, would bring the College of Nursing and College of Optometry together under one roof.

Much praise at the groundbreaking ceremony was heaped upon the College of Optometry administration for their creativity in finding funding for the project and especially the college’s students who overwhelmingly voted in favor of shouldering a student-fee increase to help pay for the center.

“They recognized the need, and they stepped up,” Davis said. “And this project is really their project.”

Third-year student Laurie Thompson said the optometry faculty is “second to none,” and she acknowledged the many student and alumni leaders who were part of the college.

“The only thing we were missing are the facilities,” she said.

Alumna Anne Ream, OD 1984, was part of optometry’s first graduating class at UMSL. She echoed Thompson’s sentiment.

“Anybody that’s gone to school here can’t feel less than the fact that you’ve received a world-class education but the facilities are needing updating,” said Ream, who is also a former University of Missouri System curator.

She marveled at the memory of the cavernous restrooms and workers jackhammering walls in the converted nun’s dormitory that still serves as the optometry facilities today.

“It’s an incredible space that was supposed to be temporary,” Ream said. “There’ve been many, many opportunities to try to get this ball rolling, but it couldn’t get any traction.”

The optometry students, she said, were a big reason the new Patient Care Center was coming to fruition.

“I’m here to tell every student in this room that we owe you a huge debt of gratitude for your generosity in giving your own money,” Ream said. “Coming 30 years down the road to you, you made it possible. You were the ones that actually got this jump-started and off the ground.”

With the Patient Care Center project moving forward, the campus will now have three major building projects under construction. On North Campus, a Science Learning Center is being built with a target completion date of December and a Recreation and Wellness Center should be ready in time for the fall semester. UMSL is also still seeking a $10 million match from the state in order to begin construction on a new Business Administration Building.

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