FORT SMITH -- A $32.3 million anonymous gift to the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education will help promote a "game-changing" culture of health for the entire region, the institution announced Tuesday.
The donation will go to renovation of the colleges' Research Institute Health and Wellness Center and a variety of programs there, according to a news release from Susan Devero, a spokeswoman for the colleges.
The center is at the 318,000-square-foot former Golden Living facility at 1000 Fianna Way the colleges bought last year, Devero said. The building sits on 63 acres.
The initial phase of renovation is expected to be finished in December 2022, according to the news release. Kyle Parker, chief executive officer of the medical school, said the colleges started preparing for the project in 2017.
"This is a transformational moment for Fort Smith, the surrounding region, and with empirical proof of success, the entire state," Parker said. "It is transformational in education for our children, transformational for this region, and transformational in creating a healthier living environment for everyone."
The Research Institute Health and Wellness Center will allow health professions and scientific community students from various disciplines and other institutions to engage in "interprofessional education integrating the arts and clinical intervention with discovery research activities," according to the release.
The facility will include a community art gallery, art instruction for students and the community, an artist in residence program, applied arts, a ceramics lab with kiln and a performing arts theater. There will also be multiple cooking stations, a mobility lab, a clinical trials clinic and a lab in which work such as biomedical research will be performed. Features outside the facility will include trails and a children's bike park.
The colleges also will concentrate on promoting a culture of community health for area residents.
"We have an amazing opportunity to promote healthy lifestyles through collaborative partnerships, civic engagement supporting health equity," Elizabeth McClain, the colleges' chief wellness officer, said. "By making health a shared value, we can prioritize and promote the connections that create and sustain improved health outcomes resulting in communities that thrive."
The colleges will deliver programs first targeting the "art of well-being," which includes nutrition, culinary, visual and applied arts, mindfulness, physical mobility and active lifestyle, according to the release.
Regarding community partners, the release states Bentonville-based Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food signed an agreement with the colleges to produce K–12 art integrated curricula focusing on healthy nutrition. The two entities also are working together on a pilot study called Integrated Culinary Arts and Nutrition with the Fort Smith School District. Teachers at Fairview, Cook and Ballman elementary schools will start teaching nutrition this fall.
The colleges also will continue expanding partnerships with the Fort Smith Regional Arts Museum and the Center for Arts Education in Van Buren to engage and promote the arts, the release states. In addition, it has partnered with the Fort Smith School District's Peak Innovation Center, which is scheduled to open this fall, to facilitate science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics integration, and will continue to work with organizations such as the United Way of Fort Smith and Antioch for Youth and Family.
The Research Institute Health and Wellness Center will also promote mobility and physical activity, among other things.
The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education is a private, nonprofit institution founded in 2014 with the goal of "transforming healthcare education, resulting in more physicians and better healthcare for Arkansas," according to its website.
The institution's first college, Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, opened in August 2017. It graduated its inaugural class of 145 osteopathic medical students last month.
The College of Health Sciences building, the institution's second building, opened in 2019. It will be home to developing programs: the School of Physical Therapy and the School of Occupational Therapy.
The colleges also received an anonymous donation of $14 million in 2014.