The first veterinary school in Texas in 100 years is being built on the campus of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo.
If you live in Texas, particularly if you own animals, you have likely heard that Texas Tech University is responding to the needs of Texas and opening the first new veterinary school in a century in Texas. While much has been discussed and celebrated in the media, there has been quite a bit of activity happening behind the scenes – acquiring the finances needed to make it happen, getting regulatory and accreditation approvals, hiring faculty and devising a truly innovative curriculum.
But anyone looking to the northwest of Amarillo will see the giant crane at the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine construction site. The school's facilities are quickly taking shape. Now clearly visible north of Interstate 40 from both Loop 335 and Coulter Avenue, the physical return on investment from the gifts and grants provided by generous donors and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation is evident. The vision shared by Texas Tech, Amarillo, the region and across Texas has become a reality.
According to Billy Breedlove, vice chancellor of Facilities Planning & Construction for the Texas Tech University System, construction of the School of Veterinary Medicine is on time and progressing as planned. The steel structure of the main academic building and school headquarters is beginning to take shape, and construction of the Mariposa Station, the large-animal facility for the school, also has begun.
"We had some really good weather through the winter in Amarillo, which can be a big factor in our construction schedule," Breedlove said. "Since we are going vertical with the steel, you can see the building taking shape."
Work to date on what is known as the School of Veterinary Medicine Amarillo Campus, located just to the north of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Amarillo campus, has included installation of all in-ground electrical and plumbing infrastructure, pouring concrete footings, slab on grade, utilities and erecting steel.
"I never thought I could get so excited at seeing concrete and steel," said Guy Loneragan, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. "What has been a plan we developed with veterinary professionals and communities across Texas, particularly Amarillo, is now growing and taking shape. Our shared vision has become a reality. And what's more, we are ahead of schedule on hiring faculty and staff and developing the curriculum. We are in a great position to welcome the students into this facility next fall. Excitement, enthusiasm and commitment for this program continues to grow.
"We are so thankful to the donors, Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, the legislature and Governor, and all the supporters who made this possible."
Like all construction projects in the System, and around the U.S. for that matter, Texas Tech has paid attention to potential disruptions in labor availability and material delivery due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Breedlove said plant closures have caused manufacturing, availability and delivery delays. He added Texas Tech has been tracking any type of material or delivery delays due to the pandemic, but at the present time is not seeing any disruptions on this project.
"Our main focus through the pandemic is the health and safety of our workers at the construction sites across the System, from El Paso to Amarillo and everywhere in between," Breedlove said. "This involves strict worker screening, personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines, social distancing and enhanced sanitation. The construction industry is experiencing worker inefficiencies because of the enhanced precautions for worker safety. We are monitoring manpower count, COVID-19 delays and COVID-19 cost impacts for the project on a daily basis."
The two-story Amarillo Campus will consist of two state-of-the-art learning wings, both designed hand-in-hand with development of the curriculum.
The east wing consists of three large classrooms, breakout rooms, a reading room and student support services on the first floor, with faculty and some staff offices, conference rooms and graduate space on the second floor. The west wing will consist of teaching and research laboratories as well as locker rooms, surgery suites, housing for small animals and support rooms for all teaching activities that occur in this wing. The two wings are connected by a lobby that serves as the entry to the building and as a place for students to each lunch and to hold events.
Construction of both Amarillo Campus and Mariposa Station are scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021 as the School of Veterinary Medicine welcomes its first class of approximately 60 students. Occupancy will likely occur in stages to allow for efficient delivery of the veterinary program while some of the complex laboratory spaces are complete. It was made possible by the generous support from donors and civic leaders, who have pledged more than $90 million for infrastructure, construction and scholarships.
In June 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the biennial state budget, which appropriated $17.35 million for the School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo that will go toward operational needs in order to get the school up and running. The appropriation included language directing Texas Tech to move forward in establishing the school.
But construction for the school has been a learning experience because this is the System's first veterinary facility. Breedlove said his office has relied upon the School of Veterinary Medicine staff and design teams for their guidance in building a facility unique to Texas Tech.
"This facility has research clinics, complex instructional spaces, labs, live animal housing and office spaces, so we're covering a great deal of technology and equipment," Breedlove said. "Veterinary equipment can be very specific and has required extensive research and design parameters. It is a great learning experience, and it's exciting to be a part of the team on this historic initiative."
The School of Veterinary Medicine will recruit and select students with a passion to practice and succeed in rural and regional communities. Its curriculum is focused on the competencies and skills necessary for success in practices that support these communities. It is also focused on affordability for the students, the University and the state. Texas Tech a developed innovative, world-class and cost-efficient model. In this model, Texas Tech partners with the veterinary practices across the state to provide community-based, real-world experiential learning that compliments their time on the Texas Tech campus.
Visitors will soon see completion of the steel 'skeleton' of the facilities. This will allow workers to access the interior and exterior of the building and increase the number of trades working on site.
"This project has been a monumental collaborative effort between Texas Tech University, the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the Texas Tech University System," Breedlove said. "The teamwork has been remarkable, and it is showing in the progress of the building. It is exciting to see the project go from concept to construction."