Officials at Black River Technical College received approval last week of a low-interest $9.5 million loan from the USDA’s Office of Rural Development to fund construction of a major new Health Science Complex on the Pocahontas campus. The new facility will house the college’s Nursing, Phlebotomy, and Science programs, offering additional space for expansion of these high-demand areas of study, according to BRTC President Dr. Wayne Hatcher.
Several BRTC representatives were on hand to formalize the project with the signing of loan documents.
BRTC began the formal process of applying for the loan from the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Direct Loan Program earlier this year, following approval from the BRTC Board of Trustees. A new Health/Science complex to allow for program expansion had been identified as the institution’s top building priority more than two years ago, and the Board and Administration had considered various funding options before learning of the USDA option.
The Financial Feasibility study indicates the remainder of the cost of construction and furnishings will be funded by BRTC. The project is expected to commence this fall, with a projected completion date of July 31, 2015.
To be located northeast of the existing science building, the new 44,000 sq. ft. facility will almost double the current capacity of the science labs. It will allow for an additional ten students annually in the RN program, an additional eight students in PN (Nursing I, II, and II) classes, or 24 additional students annually, and an additional eight students in the Nursing Assistant class, representing a potential annual increase of forty CNA students. The RN and PN class expansions are contingent upon approval from the Arkansas State Board of Nursing, and the CNA program expansion must be approved by the state’s Office of Long Term Care, according to BRTC’s VP for Technical Education Angela Caldwell. The ASBN expressed its endorsement of BRTC’s planned expansion in a letter of support, citing a critical need for trained health care workers in the state and nation.
“We are very excited about this project,” Caldwell said. “Currently, for every available nursing slots, we have an average of three qualified applicants seeking admission.”
Because Nursing is a science-intensive program of study, the need is apparent also in the demand for science classes, notes VP for General Education Dr. Roger Johnson. “Not only will this facility help us to serve the number of students who need science classes either as prerequisites for Health Science programs or for Gen Ed requirements,” he explained, “but it also means all our science students will greatly benefit from modern new classrooms and equipment.”
Possibilities for renovation and re-use of the current science building are under review, and include new programs of study in other areas of Allied Health, in Agricultural Science, or in Pre-Engineering or other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs, according to President Hatcher.
“We appreciate the assistance from the USDA’s Rural Development staff, the support of our Board, and especially the immense effort from our own staff,” he added. “This much-needed project represents a major step forward for our students, college and our community.”