FORT SMITH --Arkansas Colleges of Health Education will celebrate completing the first phase of an ongoing renovation that's part of its efforts to create a healthier region.
The school will hold a ribbon-cutting for the first floor of its Research Institute Health and Wellness Center at 11 a.m. Friday.
The facility is in the former Golden Living corporate offices at 1000 Fianna Way, which the school announced it bought for an undisclosed amount in September 2020. The building is 318,000 square feet and sits on 63 acres included in the purchase.
Kyle Parker, president and CEO of the school, said the first floor will serve as the "health and wellness center portion" of the center. It will house a variety of programs aimed to help college students in their education, as well as residents of the River Valley community.
"This is something that Fort Smith has never seen, doesn't have access to, but it fits right in with our mission," Parker said. "Hopefully, we will bring tremendous change in the health of this region. That's the goal."
Parker said doctorate program students in occupational therapy and physical therapy will be able to make use of the new facility. The school's master of public health degree program, which is scheduled to start in fall 2024, will be based there as well.
Elizabeth McClain, the school's chief wellness officer and director of the public health degree program, said the new center's first floor provides an opportunity for the community to engage with different health and wellness activities in the arts and education at times that are open for them. It also provides an opportunity for community partner organizations, who will help facilitate programs at the facility, to engage side by side with one another.
Parker said the center's first floor spans about 80,000 square feet. A floor plan shows its spaces dedicated to art and art education include two galleries, classrooms, an applied arts lab and a ceramics lab.
McClain said any scientific discovery is embedded in creativity and curiosity, as well as the urgency to find an answer. The incorporation of art and creativity into the new center will allow the school to focus on that particular aspect as it tries to improve quality of life in the community.
"When we're around creativity, when we're around beauty, around art, whether it's ceramics, or it's being in applied arts where we're looking at functional art that is beautiful, or we're looking at a painting or a statue, we feel better," McClain said. "We're able to take that break, take that pause, and we feel healthier, and we see that over and over again."
The galleries will feature art of different media from the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum and Arts on Main in Van Buren -- who will also provide art classes -- and several other independent artists, according to McClain. The school is also developing an artist-in-residence program at the center.
McClain said the Fort Smith-based Cre8ive Arts Network will be a community partner in the ceramics lab, where people will be able to make, and learn how to make, pottery. The applied arts lab, headed up by Fab Lab Fort Smith, will focus on different ways to create things both functional and "aesthetically beautiful," including through 3D printers.
Parker said someone can use these 3D printers to create prosthetic devices.
"Let's say that somebody has lost some fingers and their hands, they can no longer pick up a toothbrush," Parker said. "Well, with these devices, you can create straps and the entire toothbrush itself, and then that way they can literally just strap that onto their hands to brush their teeth."
Kenneth Moon, one of the directors of Fab Lab Fort Smith, said people will be able to use electronic stations and laser cutters in the applied arts lab as well. He said he believes the new space will help Fab Lab Fort Smith achieve its goal of building a culture of makers, hackers, inventors and artists.
"At the intersection of those skill sets, I think that you can create new ideas that don't exist yet, and I think people will see things in our community that we've never seen before," Moon said.
McClain said the center also includes a teaching kitchen where people will be able to learn more about nutrition and healthy eating.
Parker said Western Arkansas Ballet in Fort Smith will have a space in which it can teach dance adjacent to a fitness lab. Other elements of the center's first floor include a research clinic, conference rooms, offices and an event center that can seat more than 650 people.
A number of outdoor facilities are planned for the center as well, such as walking, biking and canopy trails. However, Parker said these won't be finished come Friday.
Parker said renovating the first floor of the former Golden Living building for the new center lasted about 18 months. He estimated the school's entire renovation of the facility, which encompasses five floors, will cost the school more than $60 million overall.
The other floors
The third floor of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education's Research Institute Health and Wellness Center, as well as half of the second, is dedicated to research. The remainder of the second floor will house additional clinic space for the school and classroom space for Arkansas Tech University alongside offices for other entities.
In addition, the fourth floor will hold a new campus of Haas Hall Academy, an open-enrollment, public charter school. The fifth floor is dedicated to Arkansas Oklahoma Gas.
Source: Kyle Parker, president and CEO of Arkansas Colleges of Health Education