Although remodeling of the current Jefferson Professional Center II has been going on for several weeks, it was officially kicked off Tuesday with representatives of Jefferson Regional Medical Center and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

The building, located at the corner of West 40th Avenue and Mulberry Street, will be the new home for the UAMS Family Medical Center, which currently operates three clinics as well as administrative space and a library.

“This has been a busy day for us,” Brian Thomas, the CEO of JRMC, said. “We've been working on this for a long time.”

The remodeling is projected to cost $6 million and UAMS will lease the first and second floors of the building, repaying the costs over 20 years and reimbursing the Jefferson Hospital Association, which operates the hospital.

Mark Deal, the director of the UAMS South Central Regional Campus, said that UAMS has been in Pine Bluff since 1973 and was the first location for what was then called AHEC (Area Health Education Center). Its residency training program for new doctors graduated its first class of 30 in 1981.

Since then, more than 365 resident physicians have finished family residency training at UAMS South Central and Jefferson Regional Medical Center.

Dr. Cam Patterson, the new chancellor at UAMS who assumed his post earlier this year, said that when the program started, its goal was to train doctors and other health care professionals who would work in underserved areas of the state and practice family medicine.

“Seventy percent of the residents we've trained here have chosen to remain here,” Patterson said. “Half of those are in rural areas.”

He said that since 1978, UAMS-trained physicians have seen more than one million people on an out-patient basis, and 450,000 on an in-patient basis.

Thomas said that the building where UAMS will be located was opened 15 years ago and since then, has been largely vacant.

“This is a perfect fit,” Thomas said. “It fits like a hand in a glove and we're glad to have them on our campus.”

To celebrate the kickoff, representatives of JRMC and UAMS were given hard hats by officials of Clark Contractors, the Little Rock-based general contractors for the project.

In explaining the hard hats, Deal said they did not want to bring dirt into the already-constructed building for a traditional groundbreaking ceremony.

Renovations are expected to be completed by the end of the year and UAMS will move into the renovated space in mid-January.