College nursing building in beginning phase of construction

State of Michigan Budget Director Al Pscholka speaks at Southwestern Michigan College Wednesday as construction of the college’s new nursing building is set to begin.

DOWAGIAC, Michigan _ Michigan Budget Director Al Pscholka celebrated his 57th birthday and construction of a $9.6-million nursing building Sept. 6 at Southwestern Michigan College.

Pscholka, as state representative from Stevensville and House Appropriations Committee chair, shepherded the project through the Legislature to secure $4 million from the state.

SMC President Dr. David Mathews said doubling the 1970 facility on the Dowagiac campus to 29,000 square feet will give SMC’s “truly exceptional nursing program a facility to match its quality. A building does not make a program. People teaching in the program make it, and we have the best nursing faculty imaginable.”

“Some folks in Lansing think the state line stops at Kalamazoo,” Pscholka said. “(Sen.) John (Proos), myself and (Reps.) Dave Pagel and Aaron Miller wanted to make sure folks realize that’s not true. The other really smart thing I did early on was to hire someone from Dowagiac, Adam Carlson,” now state budget office senior advisor.

Carlson interned for Pscholka while attending the University of Notre Dame.

“In 2010, he volunteered on my campaign and started getting to the office before me. He organized my entire campaign, did door-to-door lists, put signs out, did my schedule and wrote remarks and position papers. In the general election, he knocked doors with me every night.

“Here’s this young guy from Dowagiac willing to work for nothing with a tremendous work ethic who wants to go to Lansing to ‘fix Michigan.’ He got his master’s degree while he worked for me.”

Pscholka lobbied the governor’s office on behalf of SMC’s “nursing program that is one of the best. It’s one of the highest-scoring schools in the country. It’s not the building or the money for the building, it’s what goes on inside the building with people coming here with work ethics like I saw in some kid from Dowagiac that make a difference.”

“It’s an investment, not only in our region,” Pscholka said, “but in a profession where we are seeing growth. Nursing jobs available annually, over 100,000 through 2022. There will be 500,000 nurses retiring between now and 2022, which means we need to replace 1.1 million openings in the next five years just to stay even. This investment is so important for this region and this state.”

“Our pass rates exceed state and national averages on licensure exams,” Mathews said. “This region’s medical facilities are staffed with the 3,000 nurses we have graduated. These are well-paying jobs with benefits that allow them to support their families without incurring tremendous debt. We could do more, but we are limited by the size of our space, so for years we have planned to expand our nursing building and health education programs, allowing us to let in 50-percent more students” — 120 annually instead of 80.

“Making that a reality has been a long road. Our local legislators were instrumental in supporting us,” he said, recognizing Proos, R-St. Joseph, at the Student Activity Center as well as Abonmarche architects, who are also responsible for Alumni Plaza, Foster W. Daugherty and William P.D. O’Leary building upgrades and campus entryways.

“This is a very exciting time in the life of the college,” Mathews said, introducing from the Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon, Secretary William M. White and Trustee Beth Cripe.

“The board for over 50 years has worked singlemindedly to make affordable access to high-quality, transformative college education in our community,” Mathews said.

On Aug. 11 the board awarded a $7,042,435 contract to Rockford Construction Co. of Grand Rapids to add four state-of-the-art simulation labs and a 16-bed skills lab.

The college committed $3 million, with the remaining $2.6 million coming through the SMC Foundation’s first major gifts initiative, to which private business, organization and individual donors have so far contributed more than $600,000.

Fencing rings the site in anticipation of work starting.

Classes are expected to begin there in January 2019.

Nursing temporarily meets in Mathews Conference Center East.

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