Construction crews are moving quickly to transform the building that will house the pioneering Niswonger College of Optometry at Tusculum University when it is accredited.
As soon as fall semester classes ended in December, members of Tusculum’s facilities team descended on the state-of-the-art building to start the conversion of some classrooms and other spaces within the Meen Center to serve the Niswonger College of Optometry.
The first wave of renovation is scheduled to last about seven months, and other work will follow for another 1 ½ years. This activity will benefit not only the Niswonger College of Optometry but also other schools and programs within Tusculum’s College of Health Sciences and the rest of the university.
“We’re completing the work in stages to cause minimum disruption to the undergraduate and graduate programs that use classrooms in the building,” said Dr. Andrew Buzzelli, the Niswonger College of Optometry’s founding dean and executive vice president of the College of Health Sciences. “I am extremely pleased not only with the speed of the construction but also the quality and attention to detail. We’re using our exceptional Tusculum facilities team, which includes many skilled craftsmen, and that makes putting together a project of this size so much easier and at a greatly reduced cost.”
Tusculum’s Board of Trustees authorized the addition of the Niswonger College of Optometry about a year ago based on the recommendation of Dr. James Hurley, Tusculum’s president. In November, the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education determined the College of Optometry had completed the first stage of the accreditation process. The Niswonger College of Optometry has to complete three stages before it can recruit and enroll students.
Tusculum is projecting fall 2020, pending the receipt of preliminary approval for accreditation, to enroll the first class of 70 students in the four-year program. The university would have the 24th college of optometry in the nation.
“We’re committed to stem the tide of ocular disease in Central Appalachia and improve the quality of life for those in this region who have been impacted,” said Dr. James Hurley, Tusculum’s president. “To accomplish this, we’re assembling a team, second to none, that will ensure the Niswonger College of Optometry prepares our students in the most modern approaches to eye care. Tusculum is committed to building the best college of optometry in the country and further expanding the continuum of care in the region.”
The scope of work optometrists perform today is evolving and encompassing more than previously was standard. Besides conducting eye exams and issuing prescriptions for glasses and contacts, optometrists now prescribe eye drops or oral medications for more serious eye conditions.
Dr. Buzzelli said the Niswonger College of Optometry will be the first to train physicians exclusively in the contemporary practice of optometric medicine.
The Meen Center contains 100,000 square feet, and about 50,000 will be designated for the Niswonger College of Optometry, Dr. Buzzelli said. He said the Niswonger College of Optometry will share another 15,000 square feet with other Tusculum programs.
Renovation activity now underway is preparing the areas Tusculum needs for optometric examination labs, an optics lab, an anatomy lab, a primary care ophthalmic surgery suite and exam rooms. Dr. Buzzelli said it is essential for Tusculum to initiate renovation at this stage in the process.
“We’re proceeding with this work because of our pursuit of accreditation,” Dr. Buzzelli said. “One of the main functions of accrediting agencies is to ensure students are enrolled in an appropriate, comprehensive and state-of-the-art professional program. They can only certify a program based on the actions the applicant has already taken. When the accreditation team leaves our campus, they want to know students in the Niswonger College of Optometry can walk onto campus the next day and begin their education.”
In addition to the construction activity, the Niswonger College of Optometry has filled all of its administrative positions. The Niswonger College of Optometry has also already hired the faculty to teach students in the first year, and that roster will include many College of Health Sciences administrators. Other faculty members include community-based vision care providers such as Dr. Donny Reeves, medical physician, and Dr. Scott Gentry, optometric physician, who will continue to see patients in their practices.
In July, the Niswonger College of Optometry will begin the hiring of the next group of faculty members.
“The whole thrust of the College of Health Sciences is to be very efficient and to work as a team,” Dr. Buzzelli said. “Our philosophy is everybody works together, teaches together and learns together. We hire no one solely as a program administrator but rather use that person’s talents across the whole spectrum to support our students and the profession.”
For more information about the Niswonger College of Optometry’s construction, please view a video at https://bit.ly/2sdlYE6.
Information for the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education is: Address: 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141 — telephone: 314-991-4100.