A group of business notables is working to open the area's first pharmacy school, hoping to fill a need for health-care workers in the Valley and create a pipeline for new jobs.
The start-up College of Pharmacy is planned for a commercial complex just off Highway 168 in Clovis and is expected to debut in the fall of 2014.
The school -- which is different from a similar, but unsuccessful venture launched five years ago in Fresno -- would offer a four-year doctorate program in pharmacy and graduate up to 80 new pharmacists annually.
The program is slated to be the first of perhaps four or five health-care colleges that the local business group is planning. The group is controlled by the well-heeled Assemi family.
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"This is a very ambitious project, but it's what Fresno needs," said Florence Dunn, a former bank executive who will serve as president of the planned consortium of colleges, California Health Sciences University. "There's a real shortage of health-care workers in the Valley, so we need to do our best."
The Assemi family, which owns Granville Homes and other local businesses, has committed $20 million to launch the venture, said Richele Kleiser, Granville Homes marketing manager.
Already, the fledgling university has a home -- a vacant building on Clovis Avenue just south of ITT Technical Institute -- and is hiring a staff.
It has established a governing board, which includes Fresno State President John Welty and Gerald Lyles, a leading Fresno businessman. And the dean of the pharmacy school has been hired: former dean of California Northstate University College of Pharmacy in Sacramento, David Hawkins.
The plan comes as another local effort to train pharmacists grinds to a halt. The Central California School of Pharmacy, which had gone as far as getting approval to operate at the old Fresno County hospital, couldn't secure financing.
"I'm pleased that the new school is going to happen because there is a need," said Peter Mehas, a California State University trustee who provided counsel for the earlier initiative.
Nationally, the job market for pharmacists is strong. It's forecast to grow by 25%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The central San Joaquin Valley, where many in the health-care field say the demand is even more acute, does not have a pharmacy school.
The new College of Pharmacy is seeking accreditation and hiring an initial staff of 50 that's expected to be at work on campus this spring.
Once the pharmacy school is up and running, according to Dunn, the partnership will turn its attention to developing other health-care colleges. No specific plan is on the table, but Dunn said a podiatry school and optometry school are possible.
The group chose Clovis for its first college because the site is well laid-out and accessibility is good.
The Assemi family, which has been a champion of redevelopment in downtown Fresno, left open the possibility of Fresno for future schools.
The College of Pharmacy will operate as a for-profit business. But Kleiser said the partners weren't likely to recoup their investment anytime soon and were more interested in using proceeds to expand the system.