Students in white lab coats and scrubs joined faculty, staff and other curious students in SIUE’s Meridian Ballroom Thursday, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the release of over $10.5 million to fund the design phase of a new health sciences building.
The total cost of the project is expected to fall around $105 million, and the building will be over 221 thousand square feet, making it the largest on SIUE’s campus to date. According to Vice Chancellor for Administration Rich Walker, administration has proposed it be located in University Park, between the current School of Pharmacy administration building and Woodland Hall, and will house multiple health-related fields.
“It will house the nursing program, the School of Pharmacy program and the related health sciences programs,” Chancellor Randy Pembrook said Thursday. “This design will allow nursing, pharmacy and the allied health disciplines to share instructional resources and foster collaboration between programs.”
According to Pembrook, it has been a long-standing goal of SIUE to bring together its health-related fields. Pritzker said this will produce more graduates, and also believes it will attract future students to SIUE.
“[It] will connect all the health sciences programs, so whether it’s pharmacy or nursing or nutrition, they’ll all be able to connect and this interdisciplinary effort will make the students much better off as graduates from those programs, and will help attract more students to this state and to this region,” Pritzker said after the announcement.
Throughout the Thursday speech, Pritzker addressed the importance of improving campus infrastructure, especially after a two-year span without a state budget under his predecessor, former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Pritzker said due to budget concerns, the state has seen not only an “out-migration” of students who go elsewhere because the cost of college is too high, but also an out-migration of faculty who are fleeing due to the perception of an unstable state government following the budget crisis.
“So many of them got poached by other universities,” Pritzker said. “That has to end, so we need stability.”
Prtizker said he wants to attract faculty into Illinois to work at institutions with “world-class facilities.”
Not only does Pritzker believe the new building will help the SIU system, he also said it will address the health care needs of the state. Illinois is facing a nursing shortage, and the new space will allow the School of Nursing to admit more students.
“Perhaps just as importantly, this building will increase the School of Nursing’s enrollment capacity at a crucial moment because Illinois faces a nursing shortage across a number of specialties, and that means the students who learn at this facility will be preparing for good-paying jobs that are already there in a field that is growing, and the high quality of the programs here means that our students will be the leaders in that profession,” Pritzker said.
In keeping with the Board of Trustees’ recent discussions about improving rural health across the state, Pritzker told The Alestle he believes the construction of the building will help remedy this problem by providing the area with more health care professionals.
“We have to do it in combination with other things to make sure that we’re affecting in a positive way rural health, but the fact that we’re educating so many more people here and we’re doing it in a world-class fashion means we’ll have graduates who are here, who come from here, they’ve spent four years here or more sometimes in undergraduate and graduate programs, and who can be attracted to stay because they’ve seen what a great region this is,” Pritzker said.
However, Pritzker recognizes merely constructing the new building will not solve all of the concerns surrounding rural health.
“But, you have to do it in combination with other things, like we have to make sure our critical access hospitals in rural communities stay alive, that they’re thriving, and they can provide health care needs for people across southern Illinois and central Illinois,” Pritzker said. “Then the last thing is we need more clinics across southern and central Illinois. It shouldn’t be that people have to drive for hours from where they live in a rural community to get somewhere where they can get their health care needs met.”
So far, the government has only released money for design, but Walker said approximately $95 million is expected to be released at a later date for construction.
“The funding that was released will cover all of the design fees from beginning to end, so that’s very good news, and hopefully then, the plan is that [once the] first year of design work is done, then the rest of the money will be released for construction,” Walker said. “So, as long as the rest of the money is released for construction, then we’re looking at about a three-year time period in total.”
The Alestle will continue to provide updates on the progress of the new building’s progression.