UPike’s optometry college  preparing for first year

Above, Dr. Andrew Buzzelli, middle, founding dean of the Kentucky College of Optometry, discusses the school during a tour of the college’s under-construction facility Tuesday. Below, Construction continues this week on the $64 million dollar optometry school.

The Kentucky College of Optometry (KYCO) is set to open in the fall and officials say the school is coming along as planned and its new home is on budget.

This week, the News-Express had the opportunity to tour the optometry school. The building will feature a student lounge, multiple lab areas, a floor-to-ceiling exterior of windows facing the street and a dining area, which will include two restaurants and a market that will be open to the public.

Dr. Andrew Buzzelli, vice president for optometric education and the college’s founding dean, said that, at 130,000 square feet, KYCO is the largest optometry college in the country. The cost to build the college is $55 million, plus $9 million for equipment.

Buzzelli said the building is designed to make the professional students and their families feel comfortable.

“How do you continue to expand Pikeville and expand its growth?” said Buzzelli. “Get 240 new families in here, build the best place so that when they come in they say, ‘Wow, I have to live here.’”

The students of the optometry college, under direct supervision of doctors, will perform procedures on people from the area.

“Cost is not an issue. We take care of whoever,” said Buzzelli. “Pikeville Medical Center will still continue to be the main provider in the area, but they only have two providers, so the care is in here. In the other schools around the country, care is all around the city, that’s not true here ... This will be for our specialty clinics, such as laser surgery.”

The Geometric Optics area in the building houses laboratory areas with controlled lighting to increase accuracy.

“We’ve basically built individual little laboratories in the middle of a big laboratory, so each few groups of students have their own area and their own light controls and it’s state of the art to increase the accuracy in the experience they’re getting,” said Buzzelli.

Buzzelli said the most unique concept of the building’s design is that the the visual fields, which measure side vision, photography and laser procedures, are all placed in different rooms, which allows students to learn and diagnose diseases and treatment. The rooms feature projectors which are linked to the outside area to allow students to see without being in the room. He said this a feature that is unique to optometry institutes across the country.

The facility includes study areas for students on both sides of the building, with city views on the street side. Buzzelli said the windows allow the mountains to come in. The building includes study rooms for individuals or for groups of eight, as well as student lockers with charging outlets in each locker.

“Every locker has its own charging, “ said Buzzelli. “We looked at that for a while. That was over $100,000 to electrify their lockers, but it allows better patient care, so we did it.”

Although many people are turning to contact lenses or laser eye surgery, the building also includes an area designated to learning about glasses.

“It this lab, they will learn how to make glasses when they get a prescription,” said Buzzelli. “They have moved more into disease today, they have moved very far away from glasses and very much into the medical side of optometry, but since they are still tested on glasses, we have to do that.”

KYCO will not use cadavers for student learning. Instead, learning will be virtual. Because most of the surgeries students will perform will entail the use of lasers and computers, officials with KYCO said cadavers are no longer necessary.

Contact lenses have their own section in the building, which will allow students to modify, adjust and fit contact lenses.

The college will offer electrophysiological tests, which currently require residents to travel to Lexington or Huntington, said Buzzelli. Patients from PMC can come to the college for treatment. 

The college features a clinic for optic patients. Buzzelli said any services not provided at the hospital will be offered in the clinic on a small scale.

“Everything in the building is designed with the community in mind,” said Buzzelli.

The 6th floor of the building will feature a Chick-Fil-A, Einstein Bros. Bagel and a Podz Market, all of which are open to the public.

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