It won’t be long before the eye of anyone driving onto the Sandhills Community College campus is drawn to the new home of its flagship nursing program taking shape adjacent to Kennedy Hall.
About 100 college trustees, faculty, elected officials and current and former nursing students kicked off the Foundation Hall construction in a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday morning.
“We’re so fortunate that it almost defies words. I just can’t say enough about what this means to us. We have built many buildings on this campus, but we’ve never built a building as important as this one,” said Sandhills’ President John Dempsey.
“It is a building that is built to help us perform our core mission. The core mission of Sandhills Community College is to train the workforce, and the workforce in Moore County and Hoke County is very heavily ‘medical.’ So this building is not just the college's building; it is indeed the community's building.”
It was overwhelming support from Moore County voters three years ago that’s getting the project off the ground.
Much of the funding comes from $20 million in bonds that 77 percent of voters endorsed during the 2018 primary election. The county sold those bonds earlier this year at an interest rate of 1.29 percent.
Private funding through the Stan and Jean Bradshaw Foundation will cover the rest of the construction budget as well as the cost to equip the labs and simulation centers that will allow students to practice skills in a close facsimile of a real hospital environment.
Bordeaux Construction Co., Inc. is in charge of building the 36,000-square-foot center designed by architects from LS3P Associates. The project also involves renovation of Kennedy Hall, where the nursing program is currently based.
In total, the work will create a modern 75,000-square-foot facility for Sandhills’ nursing program as well as other health sciences programs like radiography, surgical technology, respiratory therapy, and emergency medical science.
Lynne Phifer, chair of Sandhills’ nursing department, said that the name Foundation Hall is a nod both to the fundraising arm of the college that has supported its programs and facilities for decades as well as to the college’s function as a springboard for students to launch into new careers.
“The donors have enhanced our academics, they’ve helped our faculty with faculty development and continuing education. They’ve helped promote scholarship and they’ve made health careers possible for many, many students,” said Phifer.
“Generations of students will walk through these doors. I can’t wait to see them. They’ll walk through these doors and then our graduates will walk into the doors of our homes sometimes, they’ll walk into the doors of our health care facilities and our universities as they continue on with their education.”
The new building will include a 225-seat lecture hall, offices, skills labs and a large classroom for EMS training. The project will double the program’s capacity to provide simulation space for advanced students to practice on sophisticated training equipment.
Sandhills currently awards associate’s degrees in nursing to about 70 graduates each year, but space limitations typically force the college to turn away nearly as many qualified applicants from the program as it accepts.
Nursing graduates are in high demand at FirstHealth and other health care providers throughout the region. So Sandhills plays a critical role in fulfilling a need for qualified nurses that has never been so apparent as it has in the last year.
“We all know what we just went through, and who knows we may have to go through it again, God forbid,” Dempsey said. “What we went through was not a shortage of equipment, not a shortage of space, but a shortage of people who weren’t exhausted by having to work double and triple shifts to keep us healthy during the pandemic. If we can produce more nurses, hopefully that won’t happen again.”
With the addition of Foundation Hall, the college anticipates growing its nursing program to 200 students total, or 100 graduates in each class. There’a an 18-month construction timeline for the entire project, but the new building is projected to be complete in time for the 2022-2023 academic year, followed by the Kennedy Hall renovations.
“It’s always been a focus of our foundation to try to empower others. It’s great to help someone in need, but we think it’s even better to empower them to take care of their own needs. So we think that the work that’s going to be done in Foundation Hall will be empowering both to the students that study there as well as to the greater community,” said Stan Bradshaw.
“An education that these students will receive there will be the foundation for their ability to live a productive life. Access to health care is of course the foundation to a vibrant community, so we think the graduates from Foundation Hall will assist in the growth and capability of FirstHealth, whose success is indeed vital to this community.”