OWOSSO — The coronavirus pandemic is not delaying Baker College of Owosso’s plan to construct a building on campus to house its new veterinary technology program.

Tuesday, a groundbreaking ceremony took place for the 4,500-square-foot facility, with college officials and general contractor Scott Perrin from Perrin Construction sporting helmets and holding shovels on the grassy area along Gute Street where the facility will be built.

Officials said work on the new facility should begin next week and open for classes by January 2021. Interested students can get started by taking program prerequisites at Baker College this fall.

“We’re starting right as scheduled, thankfully,” Baker College of Owosso Director of Academic Affairs Voula Erfourth said. “Because of (the pandemic), there’s no formal program today, but we could not let this moment pass without recognizing it.”

The veterinary technology program is being moved to Owosso from Baker College’s Flint campus, which officials announced in January 2019 was closing.

The new building will cost more than $1 million and house classrooms, diagnostic labs, offices, and treatment, operating and X-ray rooms for the annual groups of 24 students studying to become veterinary nurses.

The vet tech program will be helmed by Elsie Velazquez, Baker College’s program director of veterinary technology. She has been with Baker College since 2003.

“The facility itself is going to be absolutely fabulous. I can’t wait to settle in,” Velazquez said. “We’re going to transfer the equipment from Flint.”

She applauds the program move to Shiawassee County.

“Historically, the vet tech program has been strong throughout the Baker College system,” she said. “But I think this community, being rural, will be a perfect fit.”

Velazquez said students will be trained in radiology, anesthesiology and diagnostic testing for both small and large animals. Successful completion of the two-year program results in an associate of applied science in veterinary technology.

“(Graduates of the program) are like an animal nurse,” she said. “They can do everything a veterinarian can do except diagnosing, prescribing and surgery.”

Heading up the program as the medical director will be longtime area veterinarian Dr. Russell Ritchie of Corunna. He will provide program management, classroom and laboratory instruction, treatment of veterinary patients and direction for all medical decisions.

“I’ve been hands-on as a practitioner of veterinary medicine for 40 years, and as I was winding down my career, I was approached about this and it sounded exciting to do something different,” Ritchie said. “I’ve worked with large and small animals, so I’m bringing that to the table.”

The founder of Heritage Acres Veterinary Services in Bennington Township, Ritchie works one day a week at Animal Health Care of Chesaning. He was the veterinarian for the Shiawassee County Fair for 30-plus years, has served on the county 4-H council and in the junior livestock association.

“We’re thrilled to be bringing a new addition to Baker’s Owosso campus … with both the vet tech program and its facility,” campus President Denise Bannan said in a news release.“There is a lot of opportunity for students in the veterinary field, and there is need in the Shiawassee County area for veterinary professionals, so we think this program and this building are coming to the right place at the right time, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Also attending Tuesday’s groundbreaking was Mary Slingerland, chairwoman of the Baker College of Owosso Board of Regents; Kraig Brueck, director of campus safety; Jim Wenzlick, facilities director; and Mike Konopack, director of student affairs.

Founded in 1911, Baker College is Michigan’s largest, private not-for-profit college and the top private transfer school in the state. Baker College has multiple on-ground campus locations and two affiliate sites across the state, as well as an online global campus offering more than 100 academic program options for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

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