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Lyon Keeps Sights Set on Heifer HQ

5 min read

Lyon College’s plan to put dental and veterinary schools on the Heifer International headquarters campus in Little Rock are alive, even though a deal to buy the property fell through last month.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s dead in the water,” Lyon College President Melissa Taverner told Arkansas Business last week. “Heifer is still the location that we prefer.”

Melissa Taverner

OneHealth Education Group of Little Rock had planned to buy the 94,000-SF building and 28-acre site at 1 World Ave. for Lyon’s new Institute for Health Sciences. The institute would oversee Lyon’s dental and veterinary schools.

Heifer confirmed that the land deal fell through after inquiries from Arkansas Business on Nov. 13. A Heifer spokesman said its agreement to sell the property to OneHealth expired the previous week, “and the sale will not be completed as planned.” Heifer said the “buyer informed us that they would be unable to complete the purchase within the timeline agreed upon in the purchase and sale agreement.”

A Heifer spokesman said via email last week that “we have no comment other than to say that we continue to explore options for the property.”

Taverner said that while Lyon College is looking at other locations, it would rather build its schools at the Heifer site.

“However, we need to do due diligence and make sure that should the Heifer option no longer be a viable one, then we need to make sure that we have other options,” she said. “And we do.”

She declined to identify those sites, other than that they are in and around Little Rock. “We’re going to take the time; we’re going to investigate the options and choose the one that’s going to be the best for the schools,” Taverner said.

The private liberal arts college in Batesville still projects a 2025 opening for the dental and veterinary schools, Taverner said.

OneHealth CEO Merritt Dake said in a statement last month  that “we remain committed to helping Lyon College build these two schools in Little Rock.”

Dake told Arkansas Business in a statement last week that “OneHealth remains committed and actively involved with the accreditation process of both schools.”

A-State Moving Ahead

Meanwhile, Arkansas State University of Jonesboro is building its College of Veterinary Medicine and is on track to see its first students in 2025. “Our founding dean, Dr. Glen Hoffsis, continues to make preparations for the accreditation process,” Todd Clark, A-State’s interim chief marketing and communications officer, said in an email to Arkansas Business last week.

In July, the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the university’s plans for the veterinary college.

The Higher Learning Commission, A-State’s institutional accreditor, is set to visit the university in January to review the doctor of veterinary medicine program. And A-State is seeking accreditation with the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education, the accrediting body for colleges of veterinary medicine.


“We continue to receive a steady stream of inquiry emails from prospective students and are laying the groundwork for a college marketing plan to implement once we receive approval to do so from the accrediting agencies,” Clark said.

‘Clarity’ Promised

In April 2022, Lyon announced its plans for the medical schools, which would be the first in the state for both.

“We’ve entered into this project understanding that it’s a heavy lift,” Taverner said. “And with any heavy lift, I don’t know of any organization … or organizations that would be able to do it very, very quickly and do it well.”

Lyon is working with OneHealth, which Taverner said is responsible for securing the real estate and making sure that the finances are available to buy the property and for construction of the buildings. The parties didn’t disclose the project’s cost.

Taverner said that Lyon isn’t using funds from its Batesville campus for the medical schools. Some of the money for the graduate schools is coming from donors who wish to remain anonymous, she said.

Once the schools are operational, Lyon will use tuition revenue to “retire some of that debt over time, and then the schools will become self-sustaining,” Taverner said.

OneHealth, led by Dake, the former CEO of Rock Dental Brands of Little Rock, also is working with Lyon to help structure the curriculum and the design of the facilities.

Lyon has hired Dr. Burke Soffe as the founding dean of the Lyon College School of Oral Health & Dental Medicine, and Dr. Eleanor M. Green as founding dean of the Lyon College School of Veterinary Medicine. Clinical coordinators are expected to be hired next, followed by key faculty positions next year.

The Little Rock Board of Directors approved in October Lyon’s site plan for colleges at the Heifer location. The site plan, prepared by Cromwell Architects Engineers and Moses Tucker Partners, both of Little Rock, revealed five new structures on the Heifer property, including two parking decks, an auditorium and two separate buildings for the dental and veterinary schools. According to the plan, the institute’s administrative and faculty offices would occupy the first two floors of the Heifer building.


Heifer International’s headquarters in downtown Little Rock (Jason Burt)

Heifer International and the Heifer Foundation had planned to lease back portions of the office building following the sale, Heifer said. Both organizations “remain strongly committed to their presence in Little Rock” and plan to remain at the campus office building, according to Heifer’s statement last month.

Taverner said that if Lyon doesn’t end up at Heifer’s location, the building’s plans could be used at another property.

“They were designed for the Heifer site, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be … constructed someplace else,” she said. “Because the designs are awesome.”

She said she didn’t have a timeline for announcing the location.

“Very soon we’re going to have some clarity about where the institute will be located, so that then we can move to the next phase,” she said, which will be constructing buildings or renovating existing ones.

“We don’t have forever if we want to make the mid-’25 start date,” Taverner said. “I would like to move expeditiously, but not without care and not without full consideration of all of our options.”

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