After more than two years of construction, Fort Lewis College’s new health sciences center located on the northwest side of the clocktower will open on Friday.
The Schlessman Family Hall, named after FLC alumnus Gary Schlessman, whose foundation donated $2 million to the project, will house classrooms for FLC’s public health and health and human performance departments.
The project has been a dream of FLC administrators since 1998, said Associate Dean of Health Sciences Melissa Knight-Maloney. She said a recession in the late 1990s delayed plans to build a robust health sciences center, but in 2020, the college was able to get the project off the ground. The building will welcome its first classes during the fall semester.
The approximately $32.9 million structure quadruples the amount of lab space of Skyhawk Hall, where health sciences classes were previously held. The 42,000-square-foot building will also house an adaptive exercise lab, new study spaces and faculty offices. It will also be home to the new women’s varsity sports locker rooms.
Undergraduate degrees in the public health and health and human performance fields are among the most popular choices for students at FLC, Knight-Maloney said.
Currently, 260 students are enrolled as health and human performance majors while there are 145 enrolled in public health majors. This makes up about 12% of the undergraduate enrollment at the college.
The facility will also address regional needs for general health, wellness and fitness assessments. The services had previously operated out of Skyhawk Hall with limited space. The new building gives the college the ability to offer a larger number of fitness assessments for nonprofessional athletes and high-altitude training camps.
Schlessman said an intriguing new addition to the building is the high-altitude chamber. The device can measure the body’s different reactions to activities at high elevations.
“There is just an emphasis on health promotion,” Knight-Maloney said of the popularity of these degrees. “Our public health instructors talk about the social determinants of health and we’re kind of seeing an emphasis on how we can make society healthier.”
She added that demand in Southwest Colorado for jobs in health professions drives many students to pursue degrees in those fields.
Schlessman, a 1979 graduate of FLC, said the new building was transformative for the college. He said he always thought of FLC as a small school.
“I look at it for being this little-bitty school, and to be able to see where they brought the college to where it is today and to have a facility like this is a pretty big deal,” Schlessman said.
Schlessman said one of the new additions to the building that he finds intriguing is the new high-altitude chamber.
In July 2020, Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 20-219 providing funding for higher education capital construction projects at three state colleges and universities, including FLC’s Schlessman Family Hall.
The bill allocated $26.6 million through the Capital Development Committee for construction, and the state gave a total of close to $29.6 million for the entire project, according to the college’s website. FLC also raised about $3.3 million to put toward the new building.
“The Schlessman family, and the collective support of our generous community of donors to the FLC Foundation, helped make this state-of-the-art facility a reality,” said CEO of the Fort Lewis College Foundation Melissa Mount. “We’re thrilled about the new heights being made possible across our campus with private philanthropic support.”
FLC President Tom Stritikus said the education and services the college provides to the community will only get better with the opening of the new building.
The college will hold a soft opening from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday for donors to tour the new building.