Education

'We have gone from worst to first'

University of Iowa debuts its $96.3 million pharmacy building

Pharmacy students gather around a video display Tuesday in the learning center during a tour of the new University of Io
Pharmacy students gather around a video display Tuesday in the learning center during a tour of the new University of Iowa College of Pharmacy Building in Iowa City. (Jim Slosiarek photos/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Standing in a pristine and spacious atrium adjacent a modern learning center, towering donor wall and expansive windows stretching from floor to ceiling, University of Iowa College of Pharmacy Dean Donald Letendre reminisced Tuesday about the journey he took to get there.

It wasn’t far geographically, in that the campus’ new 228,371-square-foot pharmacy building sits just 20 yards from its old 150,000-square-foot space, built in 1961.

But technologically, experientially and opportunistically, the college has moved light-years from what Letendre characterized as “among the worst facilities” in the nation.

“It’s the largest, most complex, college of pharmacy-dedicated facility in the United States,” he said. “What I like to say when I’m out philanthropically is we have literally gone from worst to first.”

The university’s approximately 500 pharmacy students just weeks ago began inhabiting the new $96.3 million, seven-story College of Pharmacy Building — although just five floors are in use. The penthouse is reserved for utilities infrastructure, and the sixth is available for future growth.

The move came more than three years after breaking ground on the project, more than five years after receiving formal state Board of Regents approval and 13 years after Letendre arrived on the UI campus and immediately began advocating for a new building.

People told him it would not happen, Letendre told reporters Tuesday during a building tour. “Well, after 13 years of perseverance and patience, we have one.”

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Letendre paused his advocacy in 2008, when floodwaters ripped through campus, damaging 20 of its major buildings, and causing $230 million in flood-related loss and cleanup costs.

He resumed his call for a new building in 2010, when regents included as part of their long-term facilities planning a UI pharmacy building “renovation” to include $1 million in state support and “significant modernization.”

But Letendre continued crisscrossing the state, meeting with lawmakers and bringing with him local pharmacists — making his case for a new facility.

“I went to 96 of the 99 counties and visited with legislators, and almost without exception, when I visited with a legislator, I did so with a pharmacist from that community,” he said. “Invariably, it was their pharmacist.”

The pharmacists, even those who did not attend the UI, recognized the college’s facility deficiencies and voiced their concerns.

“And on May 1, when we have a dedication ceremony, I’m going to single out the pharmacists in the state as the unsung heroes, because they’re the ones that really helped drive the grassroots campaign that won over our legislators in a big way,” he said.

Lawmakers, in answering the call to support the new building, agreed to appropriate $70 million toward the project, which Letendre called the largest-single appropriation in state history.

“By a factor of almost two and a half, that is the largest single appropriation for an educational facility in the state’s history and likely will never happen again,” he said.

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Of that $70 million, $64.3 million went toward construction, and Letendre said his college is splitting the $32 million construction-total difference with the wider campus.

“Of the moneys that we have to raise in public support, we’re already at 96 percent of goal,” he said.

But what Letendre said he’s most proud of is the facility’s student-centered approach — including a 10,000-square-foot practice learning center, where students on Tuesday were practicing pricking one another’s fingers; capsule classrooms, which can be reshaped for collaboration; and a 128-seat “team-based learning center” with large screens and accessible seating equipped with outlets and microphones and the capability to be repositioned.

He’s also proud of its universal design, making it uniquely accessible to students with disabilities. Entryways are accentuated with contrasting-colored flooring; laboratories and work surfaces are adjustable for height differences or wheelchairs; and induction hearing loops are installed in spaces with microphones and speakers.

All those features and more have made Kyla Peters’ second semester of her second year as a UI pharmacy student much different from her first. Coming from Oregon, Peters, 26, said the new building wasn’t the reason she chose Iowa — but it’s been a definite plus.

“This space is a lot larger. There’s a lot more study space available so you’re not trying to cram and find a table within a small room,” she said. “The lab spaces are a lot more inclusive and more similar to how we’ll be practicing out when we are pharmacists.

“I think that when this building was created, they really took the student experience in mind and implemented that into every aspect of it,” she said.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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