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Emory & Henry College plans school of optometry school in Grundy

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Emory & Henry College plans to develop a school of optometry in Grundy.

If the proposed school, now called the Appalachian College of Optometry, receives accreditation, it will be renamed to reflect its status as a branch of the college.

The school would be located in a three-story, 38,000-square-foot building in Grundy that houses classrooms, seminar rooms and office space.

The building originally was constructed as the campus of the Appalachian College of Pharmacy.

So far, $11.6 million has been pledged for the school project, including $6 million from the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors to cover operating costs during the initial phases of development and $5.6 million from the Coalfield Economic Development Authority for capital improvements of real estate, new construction and equipment purchases.

The money from both groups is allocated by the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority, which provided the initial leadership for the project.

The school is designed to fill a need for well-trained eye care professionals in the region. The two closest schools of optometry are the University of Alabama’s School of Optometry in Birmingham and The Ohio State University’s College of Optometry in Columbus.

Optometry is a four-year doctorate degree.  Some optometry students perform an optometric residency after graduation (typically a one-year residence program), while some will go directly into practice. Since the 1970s, the scope of practice for optometrists has increased dramatically to include the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases, including glaucoma.

A feasibility study estimates the school would have an annual economic impact on the region of $11 million in its second year, which would grow to close to $30 million in its ninth year.

By the school’s second year, the study estimates that it would be responsible for 131 jobs, including 32 employees working directly for the school. That number would grow to 325 jobs in year nine, including 62 employees directly employed by the school.

Emory & Henry officials believe institutions of higher education have an opportunity and a responsibility to serve the nation beyond the education of students. The college is pursuing a school of health sciences in Marion and working with New York-based Rensselaerville Institute in expanding economic and educational development in rural communities.

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