CORVALLIS - The College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University will fulfill a 25-year-old dream with $8 million in funding recently provided by the Oregon legislature, as it creates for the first time on the Corvallis campus a complete educational program in small animal medicine.

Since its inception in the late 1970s, the college has had to send its students to Washington State University for a significant part of their education, as part of an unusual collaborative arrangement that helped reduce initial expenses when the program was first begun decades ago.

Now, the college is anticipating construction of a new 30,000-square-foot hospital, laboratory and instructional facility, a major expansion of faculty and staff and a range of new services for students and the people of Oregon. The new program is expected to be operational within two years.

"This expansion of our educational program will be a huge benefit to the animal-owning public," said Dr. Howard Gelberg, dean of the college. "Oregon's veterinary practitioners will now have board certified specialists in all animal species to assist with their most difficult cases, our students will be able to get their complete education in Oregon, and they more likely will stay in Oregon to develop their careers and meet the demand we have here for veterinary care."

Also, about $2 million in combined student tuition and state funds will now be cycled through the Oregon economy each year, instead of being spent in Washington, Gelberg said.

"The arrangement we had with WSU worked, but it was never the best approach," Gelberg said. "It provided a way to get Oregon's veterinary college up and running 20 years ago, but it has never been in the long-term best interests of the students, the state or the public we serve. Now we can control our costs better, respond to budget adjustments, gain more faculty expertise and improve the many services we provide to Oregonians."

One of the new services to be provided, he said, includes a Field Disease Investigation Unit that will provide an effective "rapid response" capability to investigate disease outbreaks.

Gelberg said the cost of educating each student should also be reduced and the average class size can be increased 33 percent to better meet the growing demand for veterinarians. The college also plans to strengthen its presence in the Portland metropolitan area through partnerships with the private and public sectors, increasing services there while improving student educational opportunities.

The new funding, officials say, is comprised of $4 million from the legislature plus $4 million in state-paid bonds, which will be used to construct the new facility needed for the program. Preliminary plans call for it to be built on the OSU campus adjacent to Magruder Hall, which currently is the main facility housing the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The new programs, when complete, will almost double the current number of veterinary faculty from 33 to 60, Gelberg said. They will include specialists in basic sciences and a wide range of fields relevant to small animal medical and surgical treatment, which is the fastest growing segment of veterinary care. Research grants from the federal government will also increase as the faculty expertise broadens.

OSU operates the only program of veterinary medical education in Oregon, and is one of only 27 such colleges in the nation. According to Gelberg, it is extremely difficult for students to gain admission to a veterinary college unless their state operates one, due to the highly competitive nature of the admissions process.

At this point, OSU is the only college in the nation that operates a college of veterinary medicine but does not provide comprehensive, in-state small animal medical training. Planning is under way for the new small animal hospital and educational facility, with groundbreaking anticipated for early next year, Gelberg said.

The proposal for the new program at OSU was a collaboration of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, with support of the Oregon legislature and a wide variety of groups around the state, including the Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Humane Society, Portland Veterinary Medical Association, and others.