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Medical college buys with eye on expansion

Building on 63 acres to broaden research by Thomas Saccente | September 28, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education will see a large expansion in its facilities in the future.

The medical college announced Tuesday that it had bought the 318,000-square-foot Golden Living facility at 1000 Fianna Way in Fort Smith last week. The building, which sits on 63 acres included in the purchase, will be renamed the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education Research Institute Health & Wellness Center.

Kyle Parker, chief executive officer of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, said in a news release that the college will move its biological research laboratory to the new building. This will expand the lab's current space from 7,000 square feet to a 120,000-square-foot research facility.

"This new location will make us the largest research institution of any osteopathic school in the nation," Parker said. "We will now have the space to focus on other types of research. As such, we are creating the Health & Wellness Center, which will focus on holistic health."

John Taylor, chairman of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education board of trustees, said the board unanimously voted in favor of purchasing the facility.

"We see this as another opportunity to further the ACHE mission to educate health care professionals; create health and research facilities; and to improve the lives of others," Taylor said.

Les Smith, chief strategy officer for the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, did not disclose after a Tuesday news conference what the college paid for the building.

With 1½ floors of the building currently being occupied, Parker said in the announcement that the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education has engaged the Little Rock-based Newmark Moses Tucker Partners to manage the property on its behalf. It will handle all current and future leases. Golden Living also donated all the equipment and furnishings in the facility.

The current Arkansas Colleges of Health Education Biological Research Lab will move to the facility after it is renovated in its entirety, the news release states.

The college hired Thomas Yorio as a research consultant to help design the new research space. Yorio, according to Arkansas Colleges of Health Education President Brian Kim, is the provost emeritus, a professor of pharmacology and neuroscience, and a member of the North Texas Eye Research Institute at that University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Elizabeth McClain, the news release states, will be promoted from vice provost and vice president of academic affairs to chief wellness officer. Parker said her new role will include working with churches, school districts, governmental agencies, hospitals, community business leaders, colleges, universities, courts and 501(c)(3) organizations.

McClain said the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education is on a journey "to transform health and wellness education using a community engaged holistic approach."

"This approach is guided by eight domains of wellness, including emotional, environmental, social, occupational, financial, spiritual, intellectual and physical," McClain said. "Positive change always begins with an idea that transforms actions. I have been so impressed with the community's drive to improve the wellbeing of our residents. ... Our first step will identify the key players in order to guide our holistic wellness programming."

Parker said the purchased land is zoned for C-3, which allows for mixed use. The college anticipates creating additional facilities to support the new center.

"I intend to work with the city of Fort Smith to bring the trails system to the doorsteps of this facility, as well as take advantage of the mountain bike trails that are already located on this property."

Talal El-Hefnawy, director of research, said the purchase proves that the college is seeking a regional and national leadership role. Parker said the United States has reached "the tipping point" in doctor shortage.

"If we can begin to teach children at a young age how to eat right, exercise, and to have a healthy lifestyle, we can change the culture and help to reduce many health issues like heart disease, obesity and diabetes," Parker said. "We are attacking the health care issue on both ends -- providing doctors and providing resources that afford the ability to change lives in our community, state and nation."

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken and Mayor George McGill also have expressed their support of the purchase.


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