Tennessee Legislature passes budget that funds TTU School of Nursing construction

The $26 billion state budget approved recently by the Tennessee Legislature for the coming fiscal year includes $15.4 million for the construction of a new and badly needed School of Nursing facility at Tennessee Tech University.

That allocation — combined with $2.5 million in federal funds and $4 million in private contributions — means the university can soon begin construction of the first facility built specifically to accommodate its School of Nursing, one which will help the 25-year-old academic program nearly triple its number of annual graduates.

“The next couple of years are going to be exciting for TTU, the Cookeville area and the Upper Cumberland region,” said TTU President Bob Bell. “This [building project, which will be a major construction project for the Cookeville area,] really gives us an opportunity to better serve our state, particularly the Upper Cumberland region.”

That’s because it will serve as a significant resource in overcoming a state and national nursing shortage that is expected to grow in the future.

According to statistics compiled by the Health Resources and Service Administration, the nation’s need for nurses to help care for the aging Baby Boomer generation will increase by nearly 30 percent — or more than 800,000 total nurses — from 2000 to 2020.

University officials agree that in spite of facing such an obvious need, it would have been impossible to get the building project underway so quickly without the continued support of state leaders, including Rep. Jere Hargrove, Sen. Charlotte Burks, Gov. Phil Bredesen and Deputy Gov. David Cooley, and federal lawmakers, led by Sen. Bill Frist and including Sen. Lamar Alexander and Congressmen Lincoln Davis and Bart Gordon.

“I certainly want to thank our state legislative delegation for including funding for this much needed construction project in its annual budget, and the federal support we’ve received also helped get this effort off to a great start,” Bell said. “We also want to thank our TTU friends and alumni for their outstanding support for this critical project.”

The university’s next step will be to present the construction phase of the project at July’s meeting of the state building commission, and with that board’s approval, begin accepting bids from potential contractors possibly by early next year.

Once the bidding process is complete, work crews could begin breaking ground at the construction site as soon as next April, and in as little as 18 months following the groundbreaking, construction could be complete.

The university has chosen the block at the far end of the campus’s Main Quad, on the corner of 7th Street and North Mahler, as the location for the new nursing building.

The old Smith Quad residence hall complex formerly stood at that location, but it was recently demolished as university officials anticipated and planned for the new facility.

The corner will eventually serve as an anchor, linking TTU’s School of Nursing with a major entrance to the area Cookeville planning officials have designated as the city’s medical district.

Such a position will be a welcome change for a program that has been in transition from one temporary facility to another since 1998, said Marilyn Musacchio, TTU’s Dean of Nursing.

“I was ecstatic to learn that funding for the TTU School of Nursing is included in the state’s 2005 budget because that means the temporary facilities we’ve lived in since 1998 now have an end in sight,” she said.

The program has been shuffled to various temporary locations since that time because the facility in which it was previously housed — a former elementary school at the edge of campus — was in such poor structural condition that it actually had to be condemned.

Significant numbers of nursing students continued to enroll, but because of the program’s severe facilities need, only about 45 — around half of any given freshman nursing class in recent years — could be accepted in upper division junior- and senior-level classes.

“But this construction project will ensure that the university will be able to meet the nursing and health care needs of the Upper Cumberland region,” she continued.

That’s because the new building will not only accommodate a greater number of upper division students than ever before, but it will also provide the necessary technology — including computerized patient simulators — to educate 21st century nurses.

And with roughly 75 percent of TTU’s nursing graduates choosing to remain in the Upper Cumberland area, a more technologically advanced facility directly translates to more technologically skilled professionals, Musacchio said.

Other features of the new building will include state-of-the-art classrooms, clinical labs and faculty facilities, a 300-seat auditorium, other conference and meeting rooms, an updated Student Health Services facility and a Rural Health Center of Excellence to serve the special needs of the Upper Cumberland region’s poorest populations.

 

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