UNMC breaks ground on Wigton Heritage Center

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On June 24, 2019, the University of Nebraska Medical Center community gathered to ceremonially break ground on its new campus welcome center — the Wigton Heritage Center — as well as launch the renovation of Wittson Hall and the McGoogan Library.

“Today is a vibrant example of the public-private partnerships that really build the future,” Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., said, noting the caring, generous and visionary philanthropists within Omaha, the state and beyond.

The 10,000-square-foot Wigton Heritage Center will celebrate and memorialize UNMC’s history, while also serving as a campus welcome center.

In addition, the fully privately funded project will replace the existing walkways between Wittson Hall and University Tower and preserve the exterior columns of University Tower. The buildings will be connected through a multi-floor space.

“Beautiful spaces are important,” Dr. Gold said, “but at the end of the day it is always about the people and programs that fill the space.”

The $26 million project includes the $18 million renovation of Wittson Hall, which was supported by the Nebraska Legislature through LB 957 funds.

Private support for the new $8 million Wigton Heritage Center was provided with generous contributions from UNMC historian, alumnus and faculty member Robert Wigton, M.D., and the Leland J. and Dorothy H. Olson Charitable Foundation.

UNMC’s unofficial campus historian, Dr. Wigton is a 1969 alumnus of the College of Medicine who served as professor in internal medicine at UNMC and in several key administrative areas in the College of Medicine, including associate dean for graduate medical education. The Wigton legacy spans three generations with several physicians within the family serving UNMC. For the celebration, Dr. Wigton was joined by his wife, Deborah, and his brother, James Wigton, M.D., class of 1981, and his wife, Judith.

The Olson Foundation was represented at the groundbreaking by the children of the late Leland and Dorothy Olson, including David L. Olson, M.D, a UNMC alumnus and former internal medicine faculty member; Karen Olson, M.D., a UNMC alumna; and Nancy Olson, who holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from both UNL and UNO.

Dr. Gold also thanked the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, the Nebraska Legislature including Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk who attended the event, and the University of Nebraska Foundation.

“This is a great day for the McGoogan Library and for the campus,” said Emily McElroy, director of the McGoogan Library, which, next year, celebrates the 50th anniversary of being placed atop Wittson Hall.

The construction project, she said, will enable the library to display its extensive and renowned rare book collection, as well as the artifacts and photos that “tell the legacy of UNMC.” The library’s namesake, Leon S. McGoogan, past chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at UNMC, once dreamed of having 24/7 access and a museum-like archives, she said. “McGoogan would be thrilled with this project.”

Dele Davies, M.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the transformational project would “provide a historical anchor.” Wittson Hall, he said, is the heart of the UNMC campus and a major arterial that connects the educational and clinical facets of campus.

The project will include a new faculty commons for collaboration, an interactive e-learning lab, a maker space for printing innovative 3D prototypes, two dozen quiet rooms for students to study and wellness spaces to meditate and de-stress.

The Wittson Hall project will be completed in the second half of 2020; the Wigton Heritage Center will open in 2021.

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