Governor Jared Polis signed into law Senate Bill 20-219 on Tuesday, paving the way for funding for higher education capital construction projects at three Colorado colleges and universities, including Fort Lewis College’s proposed Health Sciences Center. The Capital Development Committee put forth the bill’s lease-agreement as a way to take advantage of low interest rates and direct funding to continuation projects at FLC, University of Colorado, and Colorado State University. The Health Sciences Center at FLC is a cutting-edge academic research and teaching facility that will include new construction and revamped spaces in the Whalen Gymnasium building.
“We are so grateful to the Capital Development Committee and Joint Budget Committee for their leadership in coming up with a creative solution. Their support is so appreciated by our community,” says FLC President Tom Stritikus. “We’re also especially grateful to Governor Polis for his support of the Western Slope and recognizing the importance of FLC’s Health Sciences Center at this time.”
After years of planning and analyzing community needs – and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated health disparities in rural Colorado – funding for the HSC will be transformative for FLC students, faculty, and the Four Corners region.
"The timing couldn’t be better for the HSC to be funded. A building this size will bring jobs and economic vitality to our region, as well as significant growth in the health sciences."
PRESIDENT TOM STRITIKUS
Health Sciences is the largest and fastest growing department on campus, but current spaces in Whalen Gymnasium and Skyhawk Hall don’t meet the needs of the department’s classes, labs, offices, and events. With the HSC, students interested in health and well-being, nutrition science, public health, exercise science, physical therapy, and sports administration will have modern tools and unmatched opportunities for real-world applications. FLC envisions being the regional center for public health education, high-altitude study and training, world-class athletics programs, and excellence in the health sciences fields.
In the new space, classes and research will now be conducted in a human-body research lab for biomechanics analysis and run-out labs, a teaching kitchen for nutrition science, and a public health lab for microbiology studies. The facility will also address regional needs for general health, wellness, and fitness assessments. The Durango Performance Center currently operates out of a very limited space in Skyhawk Hall and more room would mean being able to tap into the growing market of fitness assessments for non-professional athletes and high-altitude training camps.
The HSC project has a total price tag of $32.9 million. The state will contribute $29.6 million and FLC is required to contribute 10%, about $3.3 million, through fundraising. FLC was awarded its first piece of the state allocation in 2018, a little over $3 million, for design costs of the HSC and will receive $26.6 million this fiscal year for construction. The FLC Foundation has been fundraising the remaining $3.3 million through donations, grants, and partnerships. In a spectacular culmination of years of fundraising efforts, FLC also recently received a $2 million pledge from the Schlessman Family Foundation for the HSC. The gift, the largest in FLC history, completes the 10% match required for Capital Construction funding.
In April 2020, the Schlessman Family Foundation gave $2 million to FLC for the HSC. Gary Schlessman (Business, ’79), vice president of the Schlessman Family Foundation, arrived in Durango to attend Fort Lewis College in 1975 and discovered an education to live by and friends to last a lifetime.
When asked about his foundation’s generous donation, Schlessman said, “my time at FLC not only gave me the foundation I needed to pursue success but also the friendships that I still have to this day. Those relationships matter more than anything to me.”
With a business degree, Schlessman could pursue any future he wanted, but first, he took a job with his family’s business, Greeley Gas (now Atmos Energy), as a ditch digger. Over the years, he held other positions, from meter reading to installation and service and eventually management. Forty years after digging ditches, Schlessman is still in the family business, helping to build one of the largest energy companies in the West. Schlessman has never forgotten his roots at FLC and has been a proud supporter of the College for the last 33 years.
“My grandfather’s philosophy was to always give back to the communities and organizations that gave you the opportunity to have what you have and do what you do. For me, that’s Fort Lewis College.”
With the Schlessman Family Foundation gift in hand and SB20-219 signed, FLC is poised to start the HSC project during the 2020-21 academic year.
“Between the care of our Legislature and governor and the amazing generosity of Gary Schlessman, this is a great day for FLC,” says Stritikus.