Shovels signal construction start for $95M medical school in Kearney

By: - September 5, 2023 5:00 pm

More than 300 people attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new Rural Health Education Building on the UNK campus. (Courtesy of Todd Gottula, UNK Communications)

OMAHA — Ceremonial shovels broke ground Tuesday for the $95 million Rural Health Education Building in Kearney, where a three-story, 110,000-square-foot medical school is soon to rise and then open in early 2026.

Leaders of the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Omaha-based University of Nebraska Medical Center led the event signaling the construction start of the facility aimed at growing the state’s rural health care workforce.

UNK health center
Artist’s rendering of the medical school poised to rise at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (Courtesy of UNK)

“Our goal is to harness UNMC’s world-class skills to transform rural Nebraska through a unique endeavor not seen elsewhere in the United States: educating health care workers and professionals in rural areas,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen. 

He called the project a “game-changer” in helping to fill shortages in all medical professions across the state. UNMC estimated attendance at Tuesday’s event at more than 300.

The center will launch new programs to train physicians, pharmacists and public health professionals in Kearney, while also expanding the presence of other existing health and nursing programs.

It will contain state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories for pre-clinical education and complex clinical scenarios and primary care practice spaces.

Rendering of the UNK-UNMC rural medical school, at right, to be built on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. (Courtesy of UNMC, UNK)

Students will be able to enroll in the newly expanded programs beginning in fall 2025, using existing UNK facilities until the new facility opens, officials said. The new Rural Health Education Building will be operated by UNMC.

“Today is the beginning of transformational change for Nebraska,” UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold said in a media statement. “This project — a public-private partnership to strengthen Nebraska’s rural health care workforce — will create many new opportunities for students who want to both pursue and practice their health careers in rural Nebraska.”

The project builds on a UNK and UNMC partnership. The institutions in 2015 opened a $19 million Health Science Education Complex on UNK’s west campus, where more than 300 students currently pursue degrees in areas such as cardiovascular interventional technology, diagnostic medical sonography, physical therapy, nursing and more.

The new Rural Health Education Building will allow for another 300 health care students, officials said, bringing the total number to more than 600.

According to UNMC, the combined facilities are expected to support about 240 local jobs and have an annual economic impact estimated at $34.5 million.

Representatives from the University of Nebraska, major donors and other officials participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday afternoon for the UNK-UNMC Rural Health Education Building in Kearney. (Courtesy of Todd Gottula, UNK Communications)

The latest project received support from numerous public and private sources, including $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding allocated by the Nebraska Legislature, $5 million from the city of Kearney and $1.5 million from Central Community College.

The William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation is serving as the lead donor to the project.

Past estimates have noted $85 million as the medical school’s projected construction costs. A separate $10 million from the state was to go toward technology startup costs. However, that $10 million recently was shifted to the capital budget because it involves special technical equipment that is to be installed and capitalized with the building project.

The change was approved recently by the Board of Regents.



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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.