Last Thursday, the Arizona Board of Regents approved the University of Arizona's development plan for 2018. The $255 million plan budgeted six university projects for the next fiscal year, including an $8 million bond that brings a UA veterinary medicine program to Oro Valley.
The $8 million goes to refurbishing and renovating a building UA already owns in Oro Valley, a 30-year-old building previously used as headquarters and labs for a pharmaceutical company.
"It is a beautiful facility," said interim dean for the proposed college of veterinary medicine, Dr. David Besselsen. "With 30,000 square feet, it's very well suited to be repurposed into a teaching area for veterinary students."
The building, located at 1580 E. Hanley Blvd., needs updates for its labs, classrooms and medical facilities. Now that the bond has passed, the process will mark UA's first major movement into Oro Valley, possibly paving the way for more properties and programs to come.
"The presence of the university entering Oro Valley could do nothing but attract the attention of more bioscience to our community," said Mayor of Oro Valley, Satish Hiremath. "It is great for our workforce, as we have so many job openings in the field but not as many qualified people."
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) already has a strong presence in Oro Valley in companies like Icagen and Roche, and schools like Innovation Academy. But with this newest UA bond, Hiremath said Oro Valley will have a complete kindergarten to job "pipeline" in biotechnology.
"The collegiate level was the only part missing," Hiremath said. "Now we can feed directly back into ourselves as a biotech center."
Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dave Perry said he sees the school as a "fantastic opportunity to connect our two communities." Perry added that all parties stand to benefit.
While UA already teaches an undergraduate veterinary science program, the new program will host the veterinary medicine program; a professional degree program more akin to a post-graduate medical school.
"We believe higher education in Oro Valley is part of the community's natural evolution," Perry said. "It would bring talent to the community, and other technical businesses have already brought us so much."
The vote is just the latest step in the long process of UA attempting to create a veterinary campus in their Oro Valley location.
Besselsen has been working with this project since 2008. However, the recession halted its initial progress. The project was picked back up in 2015, but the American Veterinary Medical Association rejected the school's bid for accreditation later that same year.
When AVMA's Council on Education toured the Oro Valley facilities, they ranked both the physical location and program plan on 11 aspects. If all 11 points were not met, accreditation was not allowed. Details of the examination process were then brought back to an AVMA council where the prospect of accreditation was decided. In their 2015 bid, UA's veterinary school plan passed most of the required 11 points but not all of them.
Hiremath says the accreditation was denied not because the veterinary program plan wasn't sufficient, but because they're planning such an advanced program that AVMA has nothing to compare it to.
"The program is combining agriculture, veterinary medicine and computer modeling," Hiremath said. "It's such an advanced outlier. But I am a firm believer that once we get accreditation, it will revolutionize accreditation for all veterinary medicine."
The $8 million facilities update will help the plan achieve some of those last few points toward accreditation.
"Everything we do from this point forward keeps the information we've learned from our past work and builds on it until we pass," Besselsen said. "The money alone will not finish the job. There is still planning to be done, but it will certainly help. We need to have adequate facilities for our students."
Renovations are planned to begin in July, 2018 and be finished in July, 2019.
"This is one of the first opportunities for the university to have a relationship with the biotech companies in Oro Valley," Besselsen said. "This bond is a major piece of the puzzle allowing us to move forward."