The Palm Beach State College Board of Trustees unanimously approved the relocation of its dental health programs building to the Loxahatchee Groves campus on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
Public forums were held last week at both the Loxahatchee Groves campus on Southern Blvd. and at the Lake Worth campus, where the dental health programs have been based since 1964.
The decision follows a months-long debate on whether to move the college’s dental hygiene and dental assisting programs from the Lake Worth campus to Loxahatchee Groves.
Royal Palm Beach Mayor Fred Pinto said he had been surprised that there was any debate over where the dental building was going to be after college representatives had pledged that health programs would be centralized on the new Loxahatchee Groves campus. He was glad to see that the western communities came together in support of the Loxahatchee Groves location.
Pinto and his council agreed to send a letter to PBSC President Ava Parker showing support for the Loxahatchee Groves location.
“Everybody had made the assumption that the new dental school would be built over here in the western communities at that campus,” he said. “I spoke about this with President Parker about a month ago, and she explained to me that it hadn’t been determined and there was a push to keep it on the Lake Worth campus. I explained to her that a lot of promises had been made.”
Loxahatchee Groves Mayor Dave Browning said the town and surrounding communities welcome the dental building, which would benefit local students who would not have to drive as far for classes, and local residents who could take advantage of free dental care for certain dental issues.
“One of the obvious things that I want you to realize is the support you have for this campus in this community,” he said at the Loxahatchee Groves forum.
State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86), who spoke at the trustees’ hearing, said the dental building would be great for the community, and that the building is appropriate for the Loxahatchee Groves campus, which is developing as a health sciences campus.
He added that the western communities were well represented at a public forum on the Loxahatchee Groves campus Oct. 4, with about 100 people, compared with a smaller showing at the Lake Worth campus forum.
“The main campus has its fire and police academies, and now we have the dental school,” he told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “It’s a great thing for the community.”
Willhite added that many local dentists spoke at the forums, saying that if the students are educated at Palm Beach State College, they will hire them.
Wellington orthodontist Dr. Randall Shults was pleased with the board’s decision. “I really support this move. Dentists in the western communities wholeheartedly support this move,” he said. “There is a shortage of dental assistants in the western communities, and we perceive this move as great for the programs.”
Willhite said the next challenge will be to get additional financing approved by the state legislature, and that he would be working during the next session for that.
In June, the legislature allocated $5 million for the new facility, which will allow PBSC to incorporate current and future technology required for the core components of the dental hygiene associate in science degree and the dental assisting postsecondary adult vocational certificate programs.
The programs, both established in 1964, are the only such programs in Palm Beach County accredited by the American Dental Association. The $5 million allows the college to begin the planning, but it is far from the nearly $22 million that PBSC needs to complete the project. College leaders will pursue additional money next year and seek additional support from the community.
Parker said there were several major factors in the recommendation for the building location, including the college’s interest in ensuring that the Loxahatchee Groves campus has a medical focus and strong community support.
“I’m pleased that there was great interest throughout the county in the placement for this particular program,’’ she said. “Having the Dental and Medical Services Technology Building is a positive for that campus. The number one job in the western communities is in a hospital or doctor’s office. The interest from the dentists and the interest from the hospitals was great, and they pledged their support for the programs.”
The current building is not only a training site for students, but it also provides continuing education for about 200 local dentists who are members of the Atlantic Coast Dental Research Clinic, which has been a partner of the college since 1964. Participating dentists of the nonprofit clinic provide low-cost dental treatment, including fillings, implants and oral surgery, to patients in the community, which also provides the required clinical training for the dental assisting students.
College leaders had contemplated building the facility on the Lake Worth campus, where the existing 55-year-old structure is located. However, after analyzing the two sites and receiving input from faculty, staff, students and the community, the recommendation was to construct the new building on the Loxahatchee Groves campus.
“We’re excited about adding the dental building to the Loxahatchee Groves campus,’’ Trustee Wendy Link said after the meeting. “It is in one of the fastest-growing areas of the county, and this facility will complement the planned health sciences and technology focus of the campus.”
Visit www.palmbeachstate.edu/programs/dentalhealth to learn more about dental health programs at Palm Beach State College.