Funding approved for Georgia project

New capacity allows for more space, students
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Artist rendering of new learning center
The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine’s new Veterinary Medical Learning Center will be built on about 150 acres of land. The existing facility was occupied in 1979, and a lack of space for expansion has made it difficult to keep up with changing technology. (Courtesy of UGA CVM)

Getting a small animal patient through surgery can be difficult for students at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, but not because they haven’t prepared. They anesthetize and prepare patients for surgery in very tight quarters and must reserve cages in the intensive care unit for recovering patients or they might not have a cage available once surgery is over.

Students won’t have to put up with those inconveniences for much longer, though. Plans for a new Veterinary Medical Learning Center recently received the green light.

$52.3 million in bond funding was approved by the Georgia Legislature in March to build the new Veterinary Medical Learning Center; Gov. Nathan Deal signed the budget May 7.

The veterinary college already received a separate $7.7 million in 2010 for planning on the recommendation of then Gov. Sonny Perdue, a veterinary alumnus of UGA. Meanwhile, it has raised $21 million in private donations for the project. Dr. Sheila W. Allen, dean of UGA’s veterinary college, anticipates requesting an additional $5 million from the state to furnish the building and raising $4 million more to bring the budget to a $90 million total.

The state will likely sell the bonds in June, allowing the veterinary college to send the project out for bid; construction is anticipated to begin this fall and last about two years.

The 286,000-square-foot facility will be located two miles off campus on 150 acres. It will house classrooms for case discussions, office space for faculty, and a new veterinary teaching hospital.

Dean Allen said, “The main purpose of the move is to provide better care for our patients and easier access for our clients and a better, state-of-the-art facility to train students in the type of medicine they’re expected to practice in the workplace.”

The existing 50,000-square-foot veterinary hospital, which has been in place since 1979, is dwarfed, compared with those at peer institutions. The space is not big enough to keep current with medical technologies. For example, small animals have to be taken to another facility on campus for MRIs. Patients have to be taken to another building just for an ultrasonographic examination. Plus, the veterinary college doesn’t have an enclosed, covered arena for pre-purchase examinations and lameness evaluations of horses.

Expansion was originally proposed in 1998, when the college decided there would not be room to develop on the south campus, around the veterinary college’s existing location.

Administrators had a feasibility study done that year and decided to have a new, remote facility built “because we are centrally located (on campus) and it’s only become more crowded around us and more difficult for large animal clients to get in and out,” Dean Allen said.

Now that they finally can go ahead with the project, the veterinary college is building for a future capacity of 150 students in a class; however, Dean Allen is quick to point out that UGA will have an incremental increase in enrollment dictated by multiple criteria, including state population increases and the local job market.

“While there is some variability among cities, in general, the job market is still pretty strong in our part of the country. The population in Georgia is one of the fastest growing in the nation. We need to prepare for future growth and will increase enrollment in an incremental, responsible manner,” Dean Allen said.

The added seats will go primarily to students from Georgia. Some increases from UGA’s contract states—Delaware and South Carolina—also may be considered at some point in the future.

Currently, UGA accepts no more than 10 at-large students (out-of-state, noncontract) a year for the 102 seats and expects to admit a similar ratio as it increases enrollment.

“We have students going into about every aspect of veterinary medicine that society needs. We have students in pathology, lab animal, military, wildlife, food animal, and dual-degree DVM/MPH students who go into government and public health careers,” Dean Allen said.

The veterinary college had more than 700 applicants for the class of 2016 this year and 555 for the class of 2015.

“We had a big increase this last year. We suspect many of those students were applying to multiple schools, and time will tell if that level will be sustained,” she said.

Regardless, Dean Allen is glad the building is finally becoming a reality.

“It’s been a long, long process to get to this point,” she said.