LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Recently, the 100 inaugural students of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Dental Medicine became the first class to use the school's new $52 million dental building.
A year ago this month, however, the 100,000-square-foot building was nothing but a field of dirt.
Within a year, architects and a construction team, based upon the vision of LECOM officials, built a facility officials say may become the standard for future dental schools.
"According to my faculty that have worked at different dental schools and dental companies we have worked with, they all feel it will be," said Robert Hirsch, dean of the LECOM School of Dental Medicine.The building, at 4800 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., features large glass windows around the perimeter for natural lighting, two large lecture classrooms that can seat 200 and 300 students, respectively, and simulcast lectures to sister campuses in Pennsylvania, a 4,500-square-foot simulation classroom, and a 115-chair dental public clinic.
The on-site clinic will serve as a basic care clinic for patients who need dentures starting January 2013. By March 2014, the school will offer comprehensive dental care to the community. By their third year, students will have their own dental chair suite.
Also, to travel from the public clinic to the academic area of the school, security access is required, a feature Hirsch said was essential when constructing the school.
The privately-funded school is just the third dental col
lege in Florida, joining Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale and the University of Florida in Gainesville.
LECOM officials hired two local companies -- Willis A. Smith Construction and Fawley Bryant, an architect firm -- to handle the project. Fawley Bryant designed LECOM's current medical school, which opened in 2004. The firm won a best design award for the project in 2005.
The design for the dental school was drawn from scratch, forcing architects to draft 30 options before settling on the final plan. Constructing the facility was limited to a window of 12 months. The average time period for a project of that magnitude is 18 months.
"This is the prototype for this kind of school," said Steve Padgett, project architect.
The structure is made up of 1,000 tons of steel, which was erected in eight weeks. To compare, it took 7,000 tons of steel to build the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
To meet the deadline, an average of 125 construction workers per day were on site, 90 percent of which were local laborers.
Hirsch, who has taught at Nova Southeastern, the University of Minnesota and Case Western in Ohio, said LECOM's new dental school is unlike any in existences in the nation. "If you had a clean slate and you were asked "what would you do?" that's what this is," he said.
In March for the school's grand opening, Hirsch will send invitation to other dental schools to view the facility.
"I'm very proud of what we have here," he said.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams