CF shifts plans on health sciences programs

The gymnasium is shown at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. on May 11, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted August 27, 2021 | By Carlos Medina

The gymnasium is shown at the College of Central Florida in Ocala on May 11. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Plans for a four-story healthcare education hub at the College of Central Florida have evolved into a mix of new and renovated sites on the Ocala campus.

Jim Henningsen, CF president, recently unveiled what he called “Plan B” for additional spaces to house medical-affiliated programs from nursing to respiratory therapy to paramedicine.

The new plan includes renovating two existing buildings, including the gymnasium, and building a new 24,000-square-foot, one-story building on the campus at 3001 SW State Road 200.

The new building would fill the space once planned for the four-story health sciences building.

Original plans unveiled in 2017 eventually called for a $43 million structure. The state would fund 80% of the cost over several years, with 20% coming from matching money from the Marion County Hospital District. But the legislature only approved $6 million over the last four years. In addition to the $1.2 million from the district’s 20% match, the money paid for site preparation.

“We demolished the old building, did the site work, infrastructure, engineering… parking lot, did the plaza. Everything is there except the building,” Henningsen told the Maron County Commission during a presentation on Aug. 17.

Henningsen said he will present the new plan to the Marion County legislative delegation in September.

He said the single-story building would cost $16 million. He hopes to get $13.6 million from the state and a 20% match from the district to pay for the construction.

The new building would house the nursing program, which the college hopes to expand to 325 students.

“I think there is still an opportunity this (legislative) year. They still have federal dollars available,” Henningsen said of the upcoming legislative session scheduled to begin in January.

But the hospital district has not committed to the 20% match for the one-story project.

“Our position is, we recognize there is a nursing shortage. All we want to do is make sure the nursing shortage is because there’s not enough people coming out of nursing school. There could be a whole bunch of reasons why there’s not enough nurses,” said Rich Bianculli, hospital board chairman on Aug. 24.

Previously, the district’s trustees agreed to the 20% match, or $8.7 million. The district remains committed to the match for the four-story project, but the agreements expire in 2025 and 2027. Any balance not used by the college would revert to the district.

Bianculli said the district hopes to get updated information to justify the need for the CF project.

“What we don’t want to do is spend $8 million on the wrong solution. If that is not the solution, we’re real interested in what is the solution and see if we can help with that,” he said.

The Hospital District is a special state board that owns the hospital currently operating as AdventHealth Ocala. AdventHealth operates the hospital under a lease.

In 2014, the district agreed to lease the former Munroe Regional Medical Center to a private operator. Part of the deal included $213 million in cash. The district invested the money and uses earnings to fund health projects in the community. The district’s portfolio was valued at more than $307 million on July 31.

This year, CF received a $7.8 million commitment from the legislature to renovate the gym for health sciences programs. However, the final amount was $6.35 million, Henningsen said.

The renovated gym will be home to respiratory therapy, cardiovascular technician, medical stenography and surgical technician programs. That project is in the early stages.

Henningsen hopes the legislature will approve the money for the new construction, which would begin in 2022.

After that, the college would seek money to renovate the current 27,000-square-foot health sciences building. That space would include pre-major classes for nursing students, another lab simulation center, as well as the emergency medical services, emergency medical technology and paramedicine programs.

“Demand has always been there for us. It’s the funding to expand. That’s what held us back,” he said. “We’re doing whatever we can. We’re making difficult decisions internally to meet that need.”

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