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VOL. 128 | NO. 185 | Monday, September 23, 2013

Visionary Plan

Southern College of Optometry reconfigures campus in multiple phases

By Michael Waddell

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Southern College of Optometry is putting the finishes touches on the first of three phases of major renovations that will take place over the next decade.

Southern College of Optometry’s new atrium connecting the college’s 11-story tower to its new academic building is part of the first of three phases of major renovations to the school. 

(Philip Tribble)

“When we developed our strategic plan, we looked at what we wanted the school to look like in 10 to 15 years,” said Southern College of Optometry President Dr. Richard Phillips.

Cannon Design of St. Louis designed the reconfigured and modernized campus, with help locally from architect Jim Meng of Formus Inc. Linkous Construction handled the 17-month buildout.

The new academic classroom complex is designed to give students more space for laptops and various recording devices, and the classrooms are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including a video system that records each lecture so students can replay lectures while studying.

“Students today want to be interactive and to be able to use technology,” Phillips said. “We record every lecture so that students can review, fast-forward, and do word searches.”

The redesign also brings the faculty in closer proximity to first- and second-year students, said Jim Hollifield, the college’s director of communications.

A grand atrium connects the campus’ distinctive 11-story tower with the renovated classroom spaces and adds about 23,000 square feet of space behind the tower. New preclinical labs replicate the same type of equipment that students will use when they begin practicing optometry outside of the school, including electronic health records.

The new classrooms are also designed with flexible walls that can be opened for larger seminar lectures. There are also plenty of spaces for breakout sessions and small group study.

“If we have a guest speaker or if we want to invite students and colleagues from other disciplines, we can open up both classrooms and all six breakout classrooms, and the auditorium will seat 620,” Phillips said. “So it’s important to have that kind of flexibility. It’s good stewardship, in terms of student tuition dollars and alumni donations, to be able to move within all of those types of classroom presentation techniques.

The last of Phase I work being done now includes adding decorative touches and artwork from members of the Memphis College of Art and some individual artists.

“We were impressed when we visited Barret Library at Rhodes College, and we’d like to incorporate some of their ideas for our students.”

–SCO President Dr. Richard Phillips

Phase II of the campus overhaul is not likely for another four to five years.

“We plan to move the dining facility out from the fourth floor of our tower to the Annex building so it will be centrally accessible for students, faculty, staff and patients,” said Phillips, who explained that the fourth and fifth floors of the tower would then be combined into a two-story library and study area that will feature a coffee service.

“We were impressed when we visited Barret Library at Rhodes College, and we’d like to incorporate some of their ideas for our students,” Phillips said.

Phase III will take place in eight to nine years and will include reorganizing some of the departments and classrooms in the tower.

“Students are highly differentiated in how they want to study. Some want to be in a cubbyhole, and others want a group of four for a study group, so we want to make the study areas maximally available for them so everyone has the type of area that they are looking for.”

The $9.4 million Phase I is the largest of the three planned stages of renovations. One-third of the cost came from donations from industry, community support and alumni (realized in the second year of a five-year “Envisioning Progress” fundraising campaign); one-third was designated from the school’s reserve fund; and one-third came from a short-term note that the school plans to repay within five years.

The last previous building project at the school was the construction of a 60,000-square-foot optometry clinic (the largest in the world) in 2002.

The optometry school will hold a formal dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new academic classroom complex on Friday, Oct. 4, at 12:30 p.m. The ceremony will follow Southern College of Optometry’s all-school convocation at 10 a.m. That celebration honors the achievements of alumni, students, faculty and staff, while welcoming first-year students to the profession with the annual white coat ceremony.

Southern College of Optometry formed in 1932 and today is one of only 21 optometry schools in the U.S. The school’s current enrollment is 508 students, its highest total in 30 years.

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