Auburn University officials have decided to make the rapidly growing Gulf Shores area the location for the College of Veterinary Medicine’s first satellite teaching hospital. Meanwhile, Gulf Shores officials hope AU’s new facility there will be an important part of the city’s efforts to diversify as the 21st century unfolds.
“Baldwin County is the No. 1 growth area in the state,” said Calvin Johnson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at AU. “We have a very strong partner in education with the city of Gulf Shores.”
The 24,000-square foot facility that will house other AU programs in addition to the veterinary hospital will cost an estimated $10.5 million. It will be at the corner of Baldwin County Road 8 and the Beach Express in the city’s high-growth area north of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Earlier this year, the Gulf Shores City Council authorized the mayor to negotiate purchase of 26 acres where the facility will be established and set a maximum price of $2.1 million. It is part of 200 acres the city has assembled for possible purchase.
The facility will be part of an educational campus that city officials hope eventually will include a new Gulf Shores High School and a new campus for Faulkner State Community College, said Gulf Shores City Administrator Steve Griffin.
Auburn estimates construction will begin in spring or summer and will take about 18 months to complete.
“We basically asked if Auburn would be interested in coming here,” Griffin said. “Over two years, it came to fruition.”
Also at AU’s Baldwin County facility:
- The College of Agriculture will conduct teaching and research activities related to marine fisheries and aquaculture and ornamental horticulture.
- The Auburn Aviation Center will offer noncredit training courses such as an Unmanned Aircraft Systems certificate; specialty courses, such as mapping/surveying, precision agriculture and public safety; and a K-12 outreach through the Striped Wings student ambassador program, with camps for various grade levels.
- The Office of Research and Economic Development will coordinate research in additive manufacturing and training for highly skilled technical personnel heavily focused for aerospace, as well as providing collaboration opportunities with research institutions, community colleges, Airbus and its suppliers, GE Aviation and other manufacturers in the Gulf Coast region.
- The Alabama Cooperative Extension System will have a plant diagnostic laboratory to support the local commercial market and homeowners, master gardener’s resource office and 4-H activities and extension meetings for area residents.
24-hour emergency vet services
The veterinary hospital satellite will offer two-week clinical rotations for Auburn veterinary students and treat animals referred to it by local veterinarians.
“We saw this as a way for our students to serve a wider array of clients and to provide a better educational experience for our students,” Johnson said. AU has always had a strong presence in South Alabama and the university wants to preserve and strengthen that presence as much as possible, he said.
There will always be two students doing clinical rotations at the Gulf Shores location. Faculty members will be specialists in internal medicine and surgery, Johnson said.
“Those two specialties will be provided by faculty who will be in Gulf Shores full time,” Johnson said.
In addition to seeing animals referred by local physicians, the satellite hospital will provide 24-hour emergency service to residents in the area. But AU does not want to take business away from area vets. Animals seen after hours will be sent to their regular vet after normal business hours resume, Johnson said.
“Expanding health services is a win for education, for the health care of animals and for the veterinarians in the area,” said College of Veterinary Medicine spokeswoman Janet McCoy.
Growing Gulf Shores
The Gulf Shores Public Education Building Authority, a quasi-governmental agency established to facilitate construction of educational buildings, will issue bonds that will be sold to finance land acquisition, engineering and architectural services, construction and equipment purchases. Auburn will lease the facility from the authority and its lease payments will equal the payments on the bonds.
The exact cost has not yet been determined because bids on the project have not been invited. City officials also don’t know how long it will be before the planned new high school and Faulkner campus will become a reality.
“We want to build the Faulkner State campus in conjunction with the high school so that the students can take advantage of opportunities for dual enrollment,” Griffin said.
Education was one of five components that made up the strategic plan for Gulf Shores that the city called Small Town, Big Beach Vision 2025. Other aspects of the plan include improving medical care; supporting the state’s efforts to restore Gulf State Park and fully realize its potential for the city; developing a waterfront district along the Intracoastal Waterway, and further enhancing and improving the city’s Gulf Beach District.
While city officials want to diversify the community’s economic base so that it does not depend completely on tourism, they have no desire to turn their back on the city’s No. 1 asset.
“We realize that we are a great tourist destination and we want to help that as much as possible, too,” Griffin said. “We understand and we want to make our Gulf Beach District as good as possible.”