FORT SMITH — Community involvement was an overriding theme in a presentation Friday morning on the proposed Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine to be built at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith.

FORT SMITH — Community involvement was an overriding theme in a presentation Friday morning on the proposed Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine to be built at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith.


Kyle Parker, president and CEO of Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, told about 250 Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce members during the monthly First Friday Breakfast at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith that initial "dirt work" for the medical college is expected to begin this month in preparation for an early 2015 construction start.


Official announcements also came Friday with the naming of Fort Smith construction contractors Beshears Construction and Nabholz Construction as the winning bidders for first building on the campus, a 100,000-square-foot, three-story, $30 million-plus project.


"Keeping it local was a big deal with the board," Parker said. "There’s no reason not to if you can find the expertise here."


Nabholz and Beshears will focus on different areas of construction. The two local companies could not have done it on their own, Parker said, and approached the college board together with an alternative plan. The two have not worked on a major project before.


Parker also said the college plans to include a physicians assistant school set for 75 students by 2018.


The doctors who graduate from the college are also expected to "keep it local," with a national average of 70 percent staying in the area to do their residency service, Parker said.


The Fort Smith region is one of the most "underserved" in the state, and the college is seen as being a well of future doctors for not just the Fort Smith region but other under-served areas like Benton and Washington counties, said John Taylor, chairman of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education board of trustees.


Doctors of osteopathy can be in any field, from internal medicine to pediatrics and family medicine, but are known to focus on a "more holistic approach," Taylor said.


Part of the behind-the-scenes work for Parker has been setting up clinical residency and rotation slots for future graduates, which he says are "coveted" because of a shortage. In addition to local hospitals like Mercy Fort Smith and Sparks Regional Medical Center, the Choctaw Nation and Cherokee Nation are two other parties involved with securing slots at their clinics for future doctors.


A combined $106.9 million has been raised to build the college and get it running, Parker told the chamber members, with the lion’s share of $60 million coming from the Fort Smith Regional Health Foundation and The Degen Foundation with money from the sale of Sparks several years ago. An anonymous gift of $14 million was given, and the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority donated $5 million in land.


The City of Fort Smith’s in-kind contribution for city water and sewer was valued at $1.5 million. The Western Arkansas Planning and Development District received a $1.2 million federal grant to help build the college. The Fort Smith chamber has contributed at least $250,000, Parker said.


"This is going to be a springboard into a new dimension for the community," Chamber President Tim Allen said. "It’s going to change the look of the community, and from an economic development standpoint it’s the equivalent to two or three manufacturers."


Allen noted the stability of a college as an economic engine, saying "I’ve never heard of a single school packing up and moving to Mexico."


With an opening target date of fall 2016, the proposed school is expected to serve about 600 students when fully operational, and employ around 100 full-time equivalent jobs with an average salary in excess of $103,000.