Dental School Project Suspended
The proposed dental school project between Bluefield College and Tazewell County has been put on hold until the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission determines whether it will fund the venture.
June 30, 2014
President David Olive (left) signs the Memorandum of Understanding with Tazewell County officials in the fall of 2012 to partner in the creation of a new dental school in Southwest Virginia. That MOU expired June 30, 2014, while both groups wait to hear from the Virginia Tobacco Commission regarding a $19 million grant for the project.
Proposed site of the Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine at the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Center.
Bluefield College administrators made the announcement, June 30, 2014, after Tazewell County officials informed the college they had decided to suspend funding for the public-private co-op and terminate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two regarding the dental school.
“While our Board of Trustees remains supportive of the dental school project, we are suspending our activities until we know funding for the construction of the facility has been obtained and we have a new MOU with the county,” said Bluefield College President David Olive. “This was a joint venture from the beginning, and it isn’t practical for the college to take the project forward on its own.”
Along with the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority, the college announced plans in September 2012 to create a new dental school inside the county’s Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Center, under construction and development just outside Bluefield, Virginia, on U.S. Route 460. The mission of the dental school: 1) to provide quality dental education to students primarily from Southwest Virginia, Southside Virginia and Central Appalachia, 2) to offer student-based clinical outreach care to underserved communities in the region, and 3) to create a pipeline of trained dental personnel who are likely to return to their underserved communities to practice primary dental care and prevention.
Together, the college and the county have funded operations for the dental school since the fall of 2012 with the help of gifts and pledges from numerous supporters, but together can no longer continue to fund operations without added support. The most vital piece of funding the college and the county are waiting on for construction is a $19.2 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
“The suspension of operations will continue at least until the Tobacco Commission acts on the county’s and college’s proposal,” said Dr. Olive, “and a new Memorandum of Understanding is entered into.”
Without the MOU with the county and with the suspension of operations, a consultant and three employees will no longer be engaged by the college. BC officials notified the effected individuals on June 30, 2014, the day the MOU expires. Among those affected is Dr. Francis Serio, the inaugural dean of the proposed dental school.
“The unfortunate outcome of the suspension of operations is the impact it has on several individuals’ lives,” said Dr. Olive. “The loss of Dr. Serio and his leadership will be a challenge for us, as well as the loss of knowledge and work product provided by the other employees and consultant.”
The Virginia Tobacco Commission is scheduled to meet in September 2014 at which time the college hopes to hear that the $19.2 million grant has been approved and operations can resume with a new MOU with the county.
Seth White, chair of the DPI Board of Directors
Following the news of suspended operations for the proposed Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine, members of the Dental Project, Inc. (DPI) Board of Directors – the governing body of the dental school – met for their quarterly meeting, Monday, June 30, 2014.
Incorporated by Bluefield College and Tazewell County to coordinate and administer funding for academic operations of the Dental School, the DPI Board discussed during its meeting the status of the grant application before the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which was not funded, but instead recommended for further review during the Commission’s May 2014 meeting. The delay caused by this decision to further review has impacted the project’s timeline and the plans to open the dental school in the fall of 2016.
The DPI Board also discussed the decision to terminate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) due to the limited action by the Tobacco Commission on the grant application. In addition, during the meeting, BC leaders shared with DPI Board members that as a result of the termination of the MOU and county funding, the college would be discontinuing academic operations until there is a decision from the Tobacco Commission and a new MOU with the county.
“DPI is still committed to the project, however, academic operations will be suspended until the Tobacco Commission has an opportunity to make a commitment to the project,” said Seth White, chair of the DPI Board and the Northwest District representative of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. “DPI continues to have confidence in the project.”
Members of DPI encouraged their partners – Tazewell County, Bluefield College and the Industrial Development Authority – to continue their commitment to the dental school project. They also said they continue to look forward to receiving a favorable response from the Tobacco Commission regarding the Tazewell County/Bluefield College grant application.
“DPI is evaluating how the project’s application can remain active and ongoing in light of the MOU among all the parties and the decision to discontinue academic operations until there is adequate funding,” said Charlie Stacy, DPI member and chair of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.