Southern College of Optometry – an independent, nonprofit college founded in 1932 – soon will break ground on a $9.4 million expansion that will provide its students with new classroom facilities and state-of-the-art instructional space.
The expansion will be the college’s most ambitious undertaking since the 2002 construction of its public clinical facility, The Eye Center, 1225 Madison Ave., which serves nearly 80,000 patients annually, making the college one of the best in the nation for clinical optometric education.
“It’s a big project for us, certainly in looking at our strategic plan, which was developed a few years ago, and in looking at kind of where our area of focus should be,” said David West, chief financial officer at Southern College of Optometry. “We felt like we had state-of-the-art clinical facilities with The Eye Center that was built about 10 years ago, which we kept up to date with the most modern equipment. We felt like we had the technology needed in the clinical practice setting, but in terms of the didactic classroom setting, we were a bit behind where we needed to be. This is going to put us at the forefront of optometry schools across the country.”
The project will add 23,016 square feet of academic and laboratory space to the Midtown campus. Six areas that can be closed off will allow students to break into small groups.
“The students can meet in a large group at the start of class, receive an assignment from the instructor, and go into a small group session, where they can brainstorm and have access to technology,” West said. “Then they can come back and report to the overall class. Those are really capabilities that we just don’t have right now.”
“It’s a big project for us, certainly in looking at our strategic plan. ... This is going to put us at the forefront of optometry schools across the country.”
CFO, Southern College of Optometry
The expansion will also allow for a 7 percent enrollment increase at the college, which educates students from nearly 40 states.
“The applicant pool for optometry is relatively flat overall across the country,” West said. “However, with only 20 optometry schools presently and a 21st that’s scheduled to open soon, we’re actually still in a position where we have more applications versus students that we can accept. This does allow for an increase in enrollment, but it was not the primary reason for going this route. It was really an outgrowth of our strategic plan and what we wanted to do in terms of the facilities and our needs here.”
Southern College of Optometry’s new building – designed by Memphis-based Formus Inc., with Linkous Construction Co. Inc. of Memphis leading the primary construction – will be on the expansive concrete patio space behind the college’s 11-story tower, and provide room to host campus-wide meetings and special events.
An atrium and grand hall will connect the new building to the college’s existing tower, which was completed in 1970. Laboratory and other teaching spaces will be moved to the tower’s first floor, closer to the new building. These spaces will better support the curriculum needs of Southern College of Optometry’s four-year academic program.
The college will break ground on the project May 11, and it’s expected the building will be ready for use in August 2013.
Southern College of Optometry launched a five-year, $4 million comprehensive capital campaign to finance the expansion, and $1 million has already been raised. The college’s board of trustees will finance the remainder of the project through investments and cost-savings measures over the five-year period.
The campaign also aims to improve scholarship opportunities for students and greater vision care access for Mid-South area patients. Campaign goals include raising $500,000 for student scholarship opportunities, and an additional $500,000 to provide more patient care opportunities – including school and community vision screenings – in the Mid-South.
Southern College of Optometry’s Community Outreach Program reaches more than 12,000 children through vision screenings provided annually to Shelby County students in public, private and charter schools.
“The success of an educational program involves more than just a physical building,” Dr. Richard W. Phillips, Southern College of Optometry president, said in a statement. “The college is committed to attracting the best students with this comprehensive campaign, which is designed to improve our academic facilities, scholarship opportunities and patient care access.”