Little Rock directors OK plan that paves way for first-in-state Lyon College vet and dental schools at Heifer International complex

Heifer International's headquarters is shown in downtown Little Rock in this Aug. 30, 2007 file photo. (AP/Danny Johnston)
Heifer International's headquarters is shown in downtown Little Rock in this Aug. 30, 2007 file photo. (AP/Danny Johnston)


The Little Rock Board of Directors approved a revised planned office development Tuesday that allows the Lyon College dental and veterinarian schools to be established at the Heifer International complex.

There was no opposition from the city directors, who took a voice vote as part of grouped items on the meeting agenda.

The veterinary and dental schools will comprise Lyon College's Institute of Health Sciences. Pending various accreditations, the college hopes to begin offering classes for both schools next year or in 2025. In May 2022, Lyon College officials announced OneHealth Education Group, a partner in the Institute of Health Sciences endeavor with the college, would purchase downtown Little Rock's Heifer International campus to house the veterinary and dental schools.

The plan approved Tuesday by the Little Rock Board of Directors entails construction of a handful of new buildings--one each for the dental and veterinary schools, as well as a pair of parking decks and a Student Center that will be an expansion of an existing building -- along with renovation of two floors of the existing Heifer Headquarters Building.

Earlier this month, the college released proposed site plans developed in coordination with OneHealth, Cromwell Architects Engineers, and Moses Tucker Partners. The plans can be downloaded at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1UCt9eQ0qiGO0VqAxroskV1rjE_rnXtsK/view.

"These plans are the result of months of research and consultation with our founding deans and other industry leaders, and are carefully designed to serve the unique needs of the first dental and vet schools in the state of Arkansas," Melissa Taverner, president of Lyon College, stated in a news release from the college. "The momentum is building and we are excited that we will announce our groundbreaking very soon."

Late last year, the Higher Learning Commission Institutional Actions Council approved the college's requests to offer the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Doctor of Medical Dentistry professional degrees. The college has appointed Dr. Burke Soffe as the inaugural dean of the School of Oral Health and Dental Medicine, and Dr. Eleanor M. Green as the founding dean for the veterinary school.

Arkansas is currently without a veterinary school, and -- despite the state's significant agricultural sector -- Arkansas ranks 49th in the U.S. for veterinarians per population with only 14 veterinarians per 100,000 people, according to veterinarians.org

Nationally, more than 40,000 new veterinarians will be needed to meet projected demand in 2030, and more than 75 million pets in the U.S. may not have access to veterinary care by 2030 without intervention, according to a 2021 report by Mars Veterinary Health, a network of 2,500 veterinary clinics and hospitals. Pet care appointments increased 6.5% in 2021, nearly 2,000 baby boomer veterinarians are retiring annually, and it would take more than 30 years of graduates to meet the 10-year industry need for credentialed veterinary technicians.

The City of Cabot Animal Support Services will partner with the new School of Veterinary Medicine at Lyon College to provide experiential learning opportunities for students and additional care for the community's animals under a memorandum of understanding signed last month.

Lyon College will also collaborate with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on the state's first dental school, joining forces where practicable and identifying opportunities for joint teaching, research, graduate education, and professional development that benefit students and faculty, under a memorandum of understanding announced late last year.

According to documents presented to the city directors in Little Rock on Thursday night, the revised planned development includes a series of new streets and extensive site development and construction of five new buildings: the Dental school, Veterinarian school an east parking deck, a west parking deck, a student center (expansion of an existing building), and the renovation of two floors of the existing Heifer headquarters building. The project will include replatting the property with updated lot lines and street rights of way.

The new west parking garage will provide spaces for about 400 cars. The new education building, a dental/shared facility, will be used for instruction of Dental Medicine and have a small treatment center -- including a simulation laboratory, and three classrooms and student gathering spaces -- according to the documents presented to the city.

The education veterinarian building will be used for instruction of veterinary medicine, with 10 classrooms, an anatomy lab, a clinical skills lab, and communication skills rooms for training the identification of ailments. There will be kennels for canine and felines as well as stations for surgery preparation and recovery. There will be locker rooms for students and spaces for student gathering and group learning.

The new east parking garage will accommodate 500 vehicles, including five ground floor retail spaces and a large mechanical room, the documents state.

"The retail spaces are speculative and are approximately 2,500-2,900 square-feet each with front and rear access," the documents state. The new auditorium will include a multi-functional conference and performance space with a stage, kitchen and supporting storage spaces.

The existing museum and multi-purpose conference center will be turned into a student center and cafe. The existing kitchen -- a warmup facility -- will be turned into a full-service kitchen so it can have the ability to support conferences and made-to-order food "with a limited menu."

As for the existing Heifer Building, it will continue to be used as an office space. The first and second floor will house the faculty offices for Lyon College, while the third and fourth floors will house Heifer International. There are no major programmatic, structural or mechanical changes proposed for the building.