AABP Award 728x90

A diamond in the rough


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Upon entering Des Moines Area Community College’s (DMACC) Ankeny campus, visitors are welcomed by more than 20 homogenous one-story buildings, and for college President Rob Denson, the buildings emulate one thing: boxes.

The campus, which encompasses 24 buildings, hasn’t experienced much architectural variety in its past, yet the box-shaped one-story building syndrome is not just a DMACC thing. As a matter of fact, Ankeny has very few multistory buildings, Denson noted, resulting in a bland skyline when compared with neighboring Des Moines.

But Ankeny’s architectural profile has reached new heights with the completion of DMACC’s latest project, its new health sciences building. The new $14 million, 58,000-square-foot building stands three stories tall, which not only makes it the first multistory building on campus, but also the highest structure on the Ankeny skyline.

“We can see 801 Grand from the third floor, so we think that is pretty special,” said Sally Schroeder, dean of health and public services, who oversees DMACC’s 18 health programs.

A need for nurses

The building, which will open for classes at the start of spring semester on Jan. 12, was built in response to the increasing demand for medical professionals, which was expressed in large part by Iowa Health – Des Moines years ago.

“In 2004, (Iowa Health) approached us, saying that with their needs, they are going to need so many more health-care providers, and they wanted to start thinking about doing something (with us),” Denson said.

Additionally, Schroeder, who has been in the health-care field for more than 30 years, said she has also seen the demand for medical professionals increase over the past few years, especially in nursing.

“We did a focus group with all of our hospitals and our clinics and that is when we asked, ‘What are you going to need in the year 2012?’ and that’s when they said, ‘More nurses, more respiratory therapists and more medical lab technicians,'” Schroeder said.

However, the heightened demand isn’t just a Central Iowa phenomenon, Schroeder said; “every community college has waiting lists for nursing programs.”

For instance, DMACC’s waiting list for its nursing program has been two years long for a while, but with its new facility, the wait has been reduced to one year. Beginning Jan. 12, DMAAC’s nursing program will be able to enroll 48 students each semester, with hopes of adding a summer-term program by 2010.

Demand for respiratory therapists has also increased as the Baby Boomer generation begins to age, Schroeder said, noting that respiratory therapists make “some pretty good money, too.” Every semester, 30 students enroll in the respiratory therapy program, which is led by two faculty members.

“The thing is, it’s a better facility with more space and there is such a need for health care, that we just need to be generating more (qualified workers),” Denson said.

However, freshly minted nursing graduates aren’t the only high-demand commodity at DMACC’s new health sciences building, Schroeder said; so are nursing instructors.

“It’s always a concern,” she said. “People my age are retiring from nursing and everybody is concerned about it because instructors can make a lot more money at a hospital, especially if they have a master’s (degree).”

Currently, Schroeder said, DMACC has enough instructors, but if the school looks to expand its existing programs, or add programs, she will definitely need to hire more. One solution that DMACC and the area hospitals have just started talking about is sharing nurses; having them teach classes as well as work at the hospitals and clinics.

Donors barely there

After DMACC’s initial assessment with area hospitals and clinics a few years ago – and after it secured a $1 million donation from Iowa Health – Denson said he sat down and calculated the funds the college would need to secure in order to build a new health sciences facility on its Ankeny campus.

“It took us until about 2006 before we had our part of the money secured and identified,” he said. “And then (Iowa Health) came in with their initial $500,000 and we were off to the races.”

Denson said DMACC set aside approximately $9.3 million of its own funds for the project, $6 million of which were from annual property tax levies.

“We saved some of that and the rest was previously raised or was from other workforce funds that we had, so (it’s) really just a conglomeration of money,” he said.

However, securing funding for new building projects can be difficult because DMACC is not a four-year university, Denson said.

“Community colleges have not had the same ability to attract private financing as have Regents institutions and private colleges,” he said. “A lot of our students come here for two-year programs, go into the work force and have not been as likely to acquire lots of money and then donate it; or students that come to us for two years and then transfer on to a four-year institution and become alumni of that institution. So they may have had two years with us and two years with Iowa State (University), but when they leave Iowa State, they are Iowa State alums and give money there.”

Another hiccup in securing funding, Denson said, is a misconception on how much DMACC actually receives in state funding, something that he experienced firsthand when seeking donors for the health sciences building

“As we raised money for this facility, a lot of donors in town said, ‘Well wait, you’re state-supported. Why should we have to give in addition? You should get enough from the state.'” Denson’s response: “Well, we don’t, and it has been difficult.”

Yet, Denson made sure to note one man who goes against the grain and has been a longtime supporter of DMACC: Dennis Albaugh, owner of DRA Properties and a member of Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Albaugh’s only degree is from DMACC, and he was a large donor for the health sciences building; the outdoor plaza was even named in his honor.

“He was our first ag business graduate, and he has been extremely generous to us; he loves this college,” Denson said.

Finishing things up

However, Denson said that when DMACC began seeking bids for the project two years ago, it was millions of dollars short of its fund-raising goal, “but we knew the bidding environment was going to be so good that we came in under budget with a little bit of luck.”

Yet Denson said for the project to be fully complete, DMACC still needs about $500,000 to purchase equipment for the classrooms. In the end, the college “just didn’t have the money” for that.

Schroeder said the current medical and laboratory equipment will adequately serve the new labs, but she hopes new equipment can be purchased in the near future.

“We have one large gift pending that we should hear about any day,” Denson said. “We are about half of a million dollars away from where we need to be” and this next gift would make that possible.

Initially, Schroeder was allocated $1.5 million to purchase equipment and furniture, such as computers, desks and chairs; an additional half million would help tremendously, she said.

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