For the last two weeks, University of Kentucky pharmacy students have been settling into their new $134 million digs, complete with spacious classrooms, two 219-seat auditoriums and gobs of research space.
"The old classrooms were pretty much just desks, and the new classrooms have tables that go all the way across and include speakers and microphones," said Alex Flannery, a third-year pharmacy student from Louisville. "So instead of being lectured at, our classes consist of very interactive student comments all throughout the lecture."
On Monday, UK leaders and state dignitaries officially dedicated the five-floor, 286,000-square-foot building on South Limestone. It is now the largest academic building in Kentucky.
"And it's filled on Day 1," UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said in his address to more than 1,000 people who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Most of UK's 600 pharmacy students, wearing their white coats, lined the railings of the building's five-story atrium to watch the proceeding.
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Todd noted that UK's pharmacy college is ranked in the top five nationally and its students have the highest first-time pass rate on the national pharmacy licensing exam since 2002.
"Walking in today, I was excited to see the future of Kentucky's medical campus taking shape," Todd said.
The pharmacy school is a key addition to that campus.
Approved in 2006 with $120 million in funds from state bonds and finished with $14 million in donations and university funds, the building includes research space for interdisciplinary medical and pharmacy work.
Much of its fourth floor has been dedicated for the work of Dr. Mark Evers, who came to UK in April 2009 to become director of UK's Markey Cancer Center.
Evers and his research team are leading collaborative research on cancer biology and experimental therapeutics, said Patrick McNamara, interim dean of the pharmacy college.
He said the building will house research in biomedical engineering, cancer and neuroscience.
It also is home to UK's Faith Pharmacy, a volunteer outreach effort to provide medicine and counseling to people who have chronic diseases but lack health insurance.
Both Todd and Gov. Steve Beshear, who also spoke at the ceremony, said development of more research space is necessary to UK's improvement and the economic development prospects of Kentucky.
Beshear recommended last week that the General Assembly approve the sale of bonds to cover the nearly $206 million cost of a science research building at UK.
"Those are the kinds of investments our state must continue to make a priority," Beshear told the crowd, which included six lawmakers.
Flannery, the student who also chairs the Kentucky Alliance of Pharmacy Students, said the biggest effect of the new building so far to boost students' energy.
"You go through pharmacy school and it's tough — you get worn out," he said. "But this new building has brought a fresh attitude to everyone and motivated us."