(Tahlequah, Oklahoma) — For more than 40 years Northeastern State University’s Oklahoma College of Optometry has provided a nationally-recognized optometry education to its students and comprehensive vision services to communities in northeastern Oklahoma.

As Northeastern State University officials take steps to strengthen and build upon the program’s legacy, they are calling on donors, alumni and other university supporters to help raise funds for a new Oklahoma College of Optometry facility as part of the recent “Building Excellence: A Vision for the Future” campaign.

“It is time our nationally recognized program has facilities that reflect the first-class instruction, graduates and community services that have become synonymous with the Oklahoma College of Optometry over the past four decades,” NSU President Steve Turner said. “The time has come for this top-rated program to move to a facility that matches its reputation.”

Dr. Nathan Lighthizer, associate dean for the Oklahoma College of Optometry, said since 1979 the college has been a premier institution in the field and one of 23 optometric training programs in the country. He added Oklahoma is recognized as a leading state for the study and practice of optometry and the Oklahoma College of Optometry has been at the center of that reputation as an institutional leader for decades.

“The Oklahoma College of Optometry is known across the world as a leader in optometry when caring for disease and advanced procedures,” Lighthizer said. “We’ve got the reputation, we’ve got the education, we’ve got the patient care. This will give us the facility that matches that reputation.”

He said a new facility will expand the availability of comprehensive vision services that many Oklahomans rely on. Through decadeslong partnerships with the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma School for the Blind and other entities more than 40,000 patient encounters per year receive primary and specialty eye care from one of several NSUOCO clinics throughout Oklahoma.

In addition, Lighthizer said that in the ever-growing competitive environment for prospective optometry school applicants, a new facility would help as it would allow more space for instruction, the hosting of continuing education conferences, new technology and more.

About the project Turner said the total price of the project is estimated at $33 million. This includes $26 million for construction, as well as funding for architectural/engineering and furniture, fixtures and equipment.

He said the goal is to raise half of the total cost of the project through private donations with the remainder to be funded with institutional infrastructure reserves, auxiliary revenues and a revenue bond.

After four years of planning, NSU officials are proposing the construction of a 101,500-square-foot complex for the college across from NSU’s Branscum Alumni Center located at the intersection of North Cedar Avenue and Crafton Street in Tahlequah. The new facility will feature state-of-the-art equipment, up-to-date classroom technology, specialized clinics for low vision, vision therapy, vision rehabilitation, primary care and contact lenses, as well as a surgical suite for Oklahoma optometry’s expanded scope of practice.

The proposed facility is more than double the existing space for the Oklahoma College of Optometry in the original W.W. Hastings Hospital built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1936. Lighthizer said a building that is 80-plus years old, despite being beautiful on the exterior, certainly has limitations and daily issues. He added that for the college to continue to provide and build upon the high-level instruction and patient care the college is known for, new facilities are necessary.

“We need the support to make this happen,” Lighthizer said. “It will strengthen our community. It will strengthen northeast Oklahoma and only build upon the reputation of a worldclass program.”

How to give

Members and supporters of the NSU family can support the project in various ways.

Peggy Glenn, NSU director of development, said gifts can be made online at nsugiving.com/ocovision. She said interested individuals can set up a one-time gift or opt for a payment schedule option through Feb. 1, 2022, when cash in hand will be needed. She added they are also able to take gifts of appreciated stock.

Glenn said there are also naming opportunities for the building, classrooms, administrative areas, clinical spaces and more at the new complex. Those interested in learning more about the different naming opportunities and other ways to provide support can do so by submitting a NSUOCO Campaign Interest form.

To learn more about the “Building Excellence: A Vision for the Future” campaign and the work being accomplished through the Oklahoma College of Optometry, be on the lookout for future university announcements in the coming months and visit the NSU Alumni Association’s website for updates.

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