The University of Iowa College of Pharmacy in Iowa City marked the spring 2020 semester with the unveiling of a new state-of-the art building.
The $127 million facility adds more than 140,000 square feet to the pharmacy school’s dedicated space, nearly doubling the previous footprint, said Donald E. Letendre, professor and dean of the pharmacy school.
According to the university, the building is the first U.S. health sciences educational facility conceived and developed using universal design principles, which accommodate learning by students regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability. The university stated that the new space fosters collaborative, small-group, student-led learning and has the flexibility to meet the future needs of students and educators.
“A lot of thought went into this,” Letendre said. “We’re pleased that what we have put into place accommodated change much more easily than physical plants of the past. So as education changes, as science continues to change, we will be able to make modifications much more easily.”
He said the facility also includes a new sterile product compounding space for UI Pharmaceuticals, the college’s Food and Drug Administration-registered manufacturing operation.
Letendre joined the university more than a decade ago to lead what he called its “premiere” pharmacy program. But he said the college’s 1960s-era facility was “one of the worst physical plants of any college of pharmacy in the United States.”
Among other things, he said, the original space housed just three classrooms and was designed to support laboratory-focused pharmacy education.
“The building ... served the college well for a long time. But as our profession evolved into a much greater degree of patient focus, the science of pharmacy changed,” Letendre said. “As a consequence, our physical plant was just woefully deficient in terms of meeting our educational and scientific needs.”
The new space boasts 23 classroom and learning workspaces, a 128-seat team-based learning center with three 220-inch video screens, 16 new collaborative laboratory science research spaces, and other innovations.
Letendre was the driving force behind the multiyear expansion project. But he emphasized that pharmacists throughout Iowa worked together to rally support and secure funding for the endeavor — including $70 million from the state.
“The unsung heroes in this ... are the pharmacists in the state. It didn’t matter if they graduated from Iowa or any other college of pharmacy. They were very willing partners in helping us, because they knew by doing this ... it elevated pharmacy,” Letendre said.
Classes first convened in the new space in late January before being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to shut everything down March 13 ,” Letendre said. “So we were ... in the facility a little less than three months before we had to close things down because the university decided we were going to go all virtual.”
He said the decision, though disappointing, was the responsible action to ensure the safety of students and staff. The pharmacy school plans to implement a hybrid teaching model for the 2020–21 academic year that includes face-to-face experiential training and mostly remote didactic training.
Johnson County, which includes Iowa City, reported a total of 2,939 COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths through August 27.
[This news story appears in the January 1, 2021, issue of AJHP.]