Western University of Health Sciences came a step closer last week to achieving expansion.

Planning Commission members Wednesday approved construction of two new buildings on the eastern end of the campus. The buildings will accommodate students in three new health career training programs the university will offer.

The university plans on opening three new colleges in fall 2009 that will train dentists, podiatrists and optometrists, said Gary Gugelchuk, senior vice president for executive affairs for the institution.

Plans call for construction of a four-story education building along the campus’s central walkway, which links up with East Second Street.

Another part of the plan calls for construction of a three-story medical clinic building that will face Second Street.

Part of Second, which is now curved where it connects with First Street and Towne Avenue, will be straightened out as part of the project.

Next to the clinic building, a seven-story, 600-space, parking structure will spring up facing Towne, Gugelchuk said.

The university’s master plan calls for the expansion and the growth in training programs, he said. Plans don’t stop with the three new colleges, however.

"We are always looking toward the future and the types of professions we need," Gugelchuk said.

With that in mind, the university is working out the details of what one day will be a graduate program in research and biotechnology, followed by another in public health, he said.

For now, the university is preparing for the construction project estimated to cost $70 million, said Kevin Shaw, Western University’s chief financial officer and treasurer.

Groundbreaking for the education building is expected in February, and the facility should to open in July 2009, Gugelchuk said.

The education building will have two auditoriums with more than 350 seats, six 125-seat classrooms and specialized laboratories for the optometry and dentistry programs, he said. More than 50 rooms will also be built where students can meet in small groups.

A portion of the university’s medical-school program will also move into the new building from one of the existing buildings, which it shares with the pharmacy school.

By doing this, the university will "relieve the space crunch that they have," Gugelchuk said.

To the east of the education building, a developer with expertise in the construction of medical-office buildings will build the clinic, Shaw said.

Once completed, the university will be able to move its Western University Family Practice Clinic – now in the 800 block of East Second Street – to the new structure.

At the clinic, students working under the direct supervision of faculty members provide medical care to patients, Gugelchuk said.

Having the clinic on campus will facilitate the sharing of resources of the various medical disciplines and encourage a team approach to providing health care, he said.

As for the parking structure, it will serve students, faculty, staff and clinic patients, Gugelchuk said.

Western University has an enrollment of 2,260 graduate students who are training in fields such as medical doctor, nursing, pharmacy, veterinary medicine and physical therapy.

About 190 students are expected to become the first class at the three new colleges, with new classes coming each year, Gugelchuk said.

The university’s growth is also good for Pomona as a whole, city officials and administrators said.

"It definitely is a plus for downtown," said Raymond Fong, deputy executive director of the city’s redevelopment agency.

The additional students will help build up the city’s night life, patronizing upscale restaurants, bars and other trendy venues that are now coming into the city, he said.

An increase in the number of students also means the city can attract developers interested in building housing that will appeal to students, some of whom are married and are just starting families, Fong said.

The growth of the university will benefit the city in other ways, Mayor Norma Torres said.

The university’s professional programs bring the city attention, she said, and pointed to its veterinary medicine program, which is one of only two in the state.

"The status that brings to the city of Pomona is beyond what we can do on our own," Torres said.

Along with Cal Poly Pomona and other academic institutions, Western University is part of a group of local educational assets that must be capitalized on, she said.

Pomona can say it is home to artists and art organizations, but it can also say it has significant educational institutions within its city limits, Torres said.

Students use few city resources, yet they make significant contributions by going into the community and participating in things such as mobile clinics, she said.

"We gain a lot more from them than they do from us," Torres said.