The University of West Florida celebrated the grand opening of University Park Center on campus, part of the school’s inaugural Founders Week observance.
Ground was broken in October, 2016 for the $7 million, 33,000 square foot facility, which brings extra space for a couple of growing health care programs.
“It brings Florida State University to our campus,” said UWF President Martha Saunders. “The FSU College of Medicine’s Pensacola Regional Campus will use this space as the home base of the FSU Physician Assistant Program.”
University Park Center is also the new home of to the UWF Usha Kundu, MD College of Health, and the new space will mean further integration between FSU and UWF. Since 2003, FSU medical students have completed clinical rotations in Pensacola.
“Pensacola was one of the first regional campuses that we selected when we started clinical rotations in 2003,” said Dr. John Fogerty, Dean of the FSU College of Medicine. “It’s been an incredible opportunity for us to work with this community.”
The best part of FSU’s regional model, partnering with six universities and 100 hospitals, is that many of the students grow roots in their communities.
“We’ve now graduated 13 classes,” Fogerty said. “Forty of our graduates so far are practicing in this community – 13 right here in Pensacola. So this is that return on investment that we expect to see when we do something like this.”
Paul McLeod, dean of the FSU College of Medicine’s Pensacola Regional Campus, told the audience that one of his first moves when establishing the campus was to pay a visit to the University of West Florida. He points to one common thread: unusually high degrees of community connection.
“Something you don’t see in a lot of other academic settings, “said McLeod. “So it was a natural for us to come over and become friends; and we did that. And over a period of several years, we felt like ‘well maybe we should be more than friends, maybe we should be looking for opportunities to do other things together.’ And we’ve done that.”
Overlooking Pen Air Field, the Center is also the new home for UWF football, featuring a locker room for up to 115 players and other amenities. The state-of-the-art weight room is open to all Argo student-athletes. That brings a smile to the face of Athletics Director Dave Scott.
“As a [UWF] grad it’s great to stand here today,” Scott said. “To think that one day we would have an athletic program and a football program; to stand here and see this facility is pretty amazing.”
UWF Head Football Coach Pete Shinnick summed it up in one word.
“Phenomenal,” Shinnick said. “I couldn’t be happier for our players.”
Shinnick says the permanent home for the program is another step up, from the double wide they’ve occupied since its inception.
“I know this sounds funny, because we played in the national championship [game] last year, and I get that, but [we’re] starting to feel complete; where we wanted to be,” said Shinnick. “Now starting to have the pieces in place that, four years ago, we talked about.”
University Park Center is part of a Master Plan for UWF. Other facilities listed include an on-campus football stadium and event center. What’s going to determine just what gets built when, is funding.