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Buffett Cancer Center

A rendering shows the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center under construction at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

OMAHA -- The word transformative gets thrown around a lot on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus.

New research efforts are aiming to be transformative in how patients receive cancer treatment. New education efforts have the goal of being transformative in how students become health care professionals.

And the future site of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is in the middle of a transformative process to make the $323 million, 575,000-square-foot hospital and research laboratory one of the premier cancer centers in the United States.

Dr. Ken Cowan, director of the center, said construction is “full speed ahead,” and the building’s superstructure, supported by 100 footings reaching 90 feet underground, should be visible by late spring.

“We’re on target, we’re on schedule and on budget, and we’re opening up in 2017,” Cowan told four members of the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents, President J.B. Milliken and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold Thursday morning.

As many as 1,000 construction workers will be at the site each day and as many as 5,000 total will build the center over the next three years.

Cowan said fundraising for the center “has been incredibly successful,” with nearly equal support from public and private sources, including the Nebraska Legislature allocating $50 million in funding as part of the Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative.

The Nebraska Medical Center on UNMC’s campus added $73 million, Omaha city leaders agreed to give $35 million, and Douglas County pledged an additional $5 million.

Both Omaha and Douglas County stand to benefit from the economic development -- hotels, restaurants and office buildings -- the cancer center will bring to the area.

The remaining $160 million comes from private donors including the Buffetts, Suzanne and Walter Scott Jr. and C.L. Werner, who will see their names on the center’s two towers.

The Suzanne and Walter Scott Cancer Research Tower, named for the philanthropic Omaha couple, will be 10 stories high and feature 100 laboratories consolidating UNMC cancer research efforts now spread across seven buildings.

Each floor in the Scott Tower will be dedicated to a different area of research, Cowan said, including lymphoma, pancreatic, breast, ovarian head and neck, lung and prostate cancer.

Offices for clinical faculty are also planned for each floor to give clinicians and researchers common areas to collaborate -- a design supported by staff and students and capable of being remodeled as research needs change.

To the north of the Scott Tower, the 108-bed C.L. Werner Cancer Hospital, named for the chairman emeritus of Werner Enterprises, will have both an in-patient hospital and multidisciplinary outpatient clinic with services from everything from radiology and surgical oncology to consultations with dietitians and social workers.

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UNMC leaders note that the new cancer research center isn’t only a physical infrastructure project.

As many as 1,200 new employees will be hired, adding about $100 million to the payroll.

Cowan said the new hires will include a Boston physician who will be a significant new leader. That announcement is expected soon.

New physicians, researchers, research and clinical staff members are expected to add to UNMC’s cancer research commitments, which grew from $19 million in 1999 to $65 million in 2013.

The ultimate goal of the research facility, Cowan said, is to transform UNMC from one of 68 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers to one of 41 Comprehensive Cancer Center-designated facilities.

UNMC is in the right place to become the top cancer research center in the upper Great Plains, he said.

UNMC is developing a partnership with Avera Hospitals, which focuses on community cancer care, to connect patients from South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Colorado directly with the Buffett Center.

Reach Chris Dunker at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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