Arkansas Colleges of Health Education development in Fort Smith in 2021 and what's to come

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From kicking off renovations on a one-of-a-kind research institute and wellness center to graduating the first class of doctors from Fort Smith, it has been a busy year for the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education.

“We hit some incredible milestones this year,” said Kyle Parker, chief executive officer of ACHE.

Everyone one of those impacts the community, he said.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the team of people that we’ve assembled who helped pull all this off."

Here are a few things ACHE accomplished in 2021 and what to look forward to in the new year.

The Research Institute and Health Wellness Center is located in the former Golden Living corporate offices. ACHE purchased the facility last September and is in the process of renovating it into a hub for health, wellness and art in the community.
The Research Institute and Health Wellness Center is located in the former Golden Living corporate offices. ACHE purchased the facility last September and is in the process of renovating it into a hub for health, wellness and art in the community.

Research Institute Health & Wellness Center

One of the most talked-about projects in 2021 is the work on the Research Institute Health & Wellness Center. ACHE officials purchased the former Golden Living office space at 1000 Fianna Way in Sept. 2020 and kicked off renovations this summer.

Once completed, the five-floor building will include an entertainment area, art gallery, kitchen space, classroom and office space as well as a research lab. The facility will add five to eight miles of trails near the Fort Smith trails system, including a canopy trail.

A 60,000-foot research center at the institute will be the largest biomedical research lab of all the osteopathic medical schools in the United States.

Parker said in September he expects the first floor to be completed in nine to 12 months, and the second and third floors to be finished in the next 18 months.

Partnering with local schools

ACHE and the Brightwater Center for the Study of Food partnered together with local schools for the inaugural run of the Integrated Culinary Arts and Nutrition Program.

Brightwater chefs worked with teachers from four Fort Smith schools in the summer of 2021 to create lessons that combined healthy nutrition with STEM and STEAM elements.

Teachers attended a training week at Brightwater in Bentonville in late July where they learned a variety of things to make them more comfortable in the kitchen including cooking with induction, lessons about nutrition and how tower gardens work.

“I got to watch them plant the seed, grow the plants and then harvest the plants,” Parker said.

To see them enjoy their work and its health effects was a special moment for Parker.

Building for the future

ACHE officials broke ground on a 78,131-square-foot, $22.5 million building at the Village at Heritage in Fort Smith on Dec. 15.

The third building, deemed Building C, will serve as a mixed-use combination of restaurants, retail and student housing. The first floor of the building will hold commercial businesses, with floors two and three serving as student housing.

ACHE officials braved Wednesday afternoons wind to kick off the ground breaking of the college's new $22.5 million Building C at The Village at Heritage
ACHE officials braved Wednesday afternoons wind to kick off the ground breaking of the college's new $22.5 million Building C at The Village at Heritage

Wednesday's event marks the sixth groundbreaking the college has had on its 515 acres in the last six years, Parker said.

On Dec. 6, ACHE officially celebrated the dedication for the College of Health Sciences building that was delayed because of the pandemic.

The first class

The inaugural class of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine graduated May 15. The 143 new doctors of osteopathic medicine were celebrated at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Stubblefield Center. ACHE also recognized 43 master's in biomedicine graduates.

Dr.s Amy and Don Givler of Tyler, Texas, hood their son, Dr. John Givler, Saturday, May 15, during 2021 Arkansas College of Health Education Commencement Ceremony at UAFS’ Stubblefield Center.
Dr.s Amy and Don Givler of Tyler, Texas, hood their son, Dr. John Givler, Saturday, May 15, during 2021 Arkansas College of Health Education Commencement Ceremony at UAFS’ Stubblefield Center.

The Graduate Medical Education placement for the physician class of 2021 was announced on March 19, the medical college had a 95% match rate for its first class. The residency placement rate within the service region was 74%.

“You look back and go ‘wow we really are making an impact,’’ Parker said.

The college also welcomed its first group of physical therapy students in 2021.

A look at 2022

ACHE is looking at around $60 million in work and projects slated for 2022 so far, Parker said.

The new year will see continued work and renovations on the Research Institute Health & Wellness Center, with the first floor being opened to the public once it is completed.

Celebration Garden and Wellness Park, which is dedicated to those who donate their bodies to science, is set to open in late spring 2022.

2022 could also bring another housing announcement from ACHE officials. The completion of Building C in 2023 will bring the college’s housing coverage for its student body to 44%, Parker said.

“We are looking right now at building more housing for our students in the form of apartments, townhouses – that type of thing – that will go south of The Residents,” he said.

The housing, which will likely be done in stages, could bring anywhere from $8 million to $15 million more in projects in 2022, Parker said.

The college will also welcome the first class of occupational therapy students on Jan. 6, 2022.

“It’s a pretty robust year ahead of us,” Parker said. “But it will be a lot more than that before it’s over.”

Abbi Ross is the business and features reporter at the Southwest Times Record. She can be reached at aross@swtimes.com or on Twitter at @__AbbiRoss

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Looking at ACHE's development in Fort Smith in 2021 and what's to come

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