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Dental school completes five-story expansion

Published: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Updated: Thursday, October 22, 2009 08:10

Medical Center

Ashley Seenauth/Tufts Daily

The School of Dental Medicine recently completed a five-story expansion to its campus in Boston’s Chinatown.

Nearly a decade of planning and construction have finally resulted in the completion of an ambitious, $68 million five-floor vertical expansion to the School of Dental Medicine, one of the most significant improvements to the school since its founding over 140 years ago.

The addition enlarged the dental school building by 50 percent and will result in significantly more clinical space for doctors and students.

Administrators, staff and faculty members plan to move into the new facility around Christmas and will be able to see patients by January, according to Professor Charles Rankin, director of the predoctoral endodontics program.

Four of the dental school's post-doctoral programs will gain an entire floor when the facility opens, doubling those programs' space to 42,000 square feet, according to the school's executive associate dean, Joseph Castellana.

The renovations expanded a pre-clinical simulation laboratory, and administrative offices will move to the new floors to allow for additional class space.

The expansion will also add new continuing-education facilities to the dental school, letting dentists receive ongoing training in order to maintain their licenses.

Most of the improvements will serve post-graduate programs, including a new clinic for the endodontics program.

The significant upgrades in technology and facilities will place the school "heads and shoulders" above its contemporaries across the country, inevitably drawing more students and improving the overall level of academia at the Boston-based graduate school, Rankin said.

Planning for the expansion began at the beginning of this decade.

The added clinical space will allow the school to see more patients from the surrounding community. The dental school is located in the center of Boston's Chinatown, and according to Castellana, remains the almost-exclusive provider of dental services to the surrounding Chinese community, serving mostly children.

"The decision to expand was made around 2001 when it became apparent that the school had outgrown its facility," said Castellana, who has been involved with the development and planning of the expansion from the beginning.

"We are fortunate in that the demand exceeds the supply," he said.

The dental school is the second-largest private dental school in the country in terms of enrollment.

A slow start to fundraising marked the beginning of the project, and relatively early on construction workers found that they could not work on an entire side of the building because it rested directly above the MBTA subway's Orange Line, making it impossible to place a crane in the area. The realization forced major exterior and landscape modifications.

During building, the simulation lab became unusable to make space for construction, and administrative offices had to move offsite.

Fundraising during the economic downturn proved to be surprisingly challenging, but the dental school relied heavily on its loyal alumni population and on innovative fund raising techniques to keep potential donors updated.

Alumni have contributed $31.3 million toward the $68 million project, according to Maria Tringale, senior director of development and alumni relations at the dental school. The school still has $4.5 million left to raise to meet its alumni fund-raising goals, Tringale added.

Meanwhile, money received from the dental school's reserves and from the university, through debt financing, has covered the rest of the expansion's costs.

Dental school Dean Lonnie Norris played an instrumental role in employing new fund-raising techniques to get alumni excited about the expansion, Tringale said.

The school invited graduates back to campus for events centered around the construction. The university also launched a Web site with updates on the project and posted a slideshow of the project's progression.

"[Fundraising] was challenging, but the mere fact that it had never been done before and that it was such a big project allowed people to find it in their hearts to donate," Tringale said.

Alumni's "unique love of their school," combined with a general feeling among alumni and others that the expansion was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity worth contributing to, bolstered contributions, Tringale said.

"We are family, basically," Rankin said. "Everyone was pulling in the same direction and very pumped up about the expansion."

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