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SCC Health Science Center open for learning

The new Health Sciences Center on the campus of Southwestern Community College is open for learning. SCC photo The new Health Sciences Center on the campus of Southwestern Community College is open for learning. SCC photo

Though students have been enjoying the amenities of the new Health Sciences Center at Southwestern Community College since the start of this school year, SCC staff and community members gathered last week for the official grand opening of the new building.

“This vision began way back in 2016 when the county government, along with SCC, agreed to spend some funds for a strategic master plan,” said College President Dr. Don Tomas. “And our number one priority was the health science building.”

According to Tomas, the 55,411 square-foot building allows SCC to expand its health sciences programs from 14 to 16, with new programs in surgical technology and opticianry. 

“We now have 16 programs, and, you know, for a college our size, we are the only college in the state of North Carolina that has 16 health science programs,” said Tomas. 

The new building and additional programs mean the college will be able to enroll over 240 additional students in its health science department. 

“That’s how many additional students we will be able to expand, to create and prepare a work-ready workforce,” said Tomas. “This building enables our students and our faculty to have instructional equipment and technology that our students may not even see in clinicals. It is state of the art, and that’s what’s exciting for all of us.”

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A few exciting resources for students and staff are the full-size, simulation ambulance in the EMS paramedic room, simulation labs, a surgery room, a birthing room that is identical to those in a hospital, a critical care room and an Anatomage table. 

“I’m very grateful for everything I’ve got here,” said Heber Najera, student representative for the SCC Board of Trustees. “The labs are identical to what they will be in the real-life scenarios. The teaching experience is phenomenal. Every single thing that’s available in this building, we can use it universally. I’ll use the Anatomage table a lot, and I’m a PT student, but the nursing students use that as well.”

Funding for the new Health Sciences Center was a broad effort that involved local community members, county and state government. Commissioners Gayle Woody, Boyce Deitz and Mark Jones attended the open house, as well as reps. Mike Clampitt and Karl Gillespie. 

The building cost about $21 million, plus the price of equipment and furnishings for the state-of-the-art health center. The 2016 Connect NC bond included $7.1 million in funding for repair, renovation and construction projects. In May of that year, Jackson County approved a quarter-cent sales tax to provide additional funds to Jackson County Public Schools and SCC. The $2.6 million for equipment and furnishings was raised with the help of the board of trustees, the Golden Leaf Foundation, the Bridge Foundation, the Nantahala Foundation, Cashiers Highlands Health Foundation, Dogwood Health Trust, the Cannon Foundation, the Great Smokies Health Foundation and the SCC Foundation. 

“The people that helped build this building are the people that you see their homes up and down these streets and creeks,” Deitz said. “Going through that building, we look out the big windows and you’re looking at the whole Balsam Mountain Range. It’s beautiful. And it’s who we are. A lot of this is for our people in the Balsam Mountains. I thank y’all so much for allowing us to be part of it. We are so glad as a county and as commissioners that we can do the little that we do.”

Led by founding program coordinator Melissa Daniels-Dolan, surgical technology is housed on the third floor of the new building. The top level also hosts medical laboratory technology, medical assisting, an anatomy and physiology lab and faculty offices. 

The second floor is home to the latest medical-training technology, as well as nursing, radiography, respiratory therapy and medical sonography programs. The emergency medical science program and clinics are located on the first floor. 

The new opticianry program, along with existing programs like health information technology and human services technology, remain in remodeled sections of the Balsam Center. 

“Thank you to everybody in here ... We are a community college,” Tomas said during the open house. “We’re here to serve you. We’re here to be part of you. We change lives. The students that walk through our doors come out with work-ready, workforce skills.” 

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