On New Year's Eve, the complete renovation of the Gerald L. Francis Center is scheduled to be finished. The former Smithfield Ham building will house Elon University's doctorate of physical therapy and new master of physician assistant studies programs.

Demolition and construction of the building's interior began last October, which included replacing the original bathrooms and power, water, heating and cooling systems, said Neil Bromilow, director of planning, design and construction management.

"It seems like we started construction ages ago," Bromilow said. "The only thing that was kept as part of the old building was the shell — the floors, walls and roof."

Approximately half of the 150,000 square foot building was renovated, he said, including the two-story part facing Haggard Avenue and a one-story portion in the back of the building. Behind the building, a playing field with lights has been completed for undergraduate students since the beginning of the academic year.

Bromilow said a second field would be ready next year.

Mark Archambault, director of the new physician assistant program, said the university has recruited and hired six of eight full-time faculty members for the new program and two part-time medical directors. Until August 2012, only four employees will be a part of the program's full-time development team.

The university must still approve the physician assistant program's curriculum, though Archambault said the School of Health Sciences Curriculum Committee, Graduate Council and the University Curriculum Committee have all recommended the curriculum for approval.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant will visit in May and review the program in September 2012.Archambault said the accreditation is a major priority for the school before moving forward.

"The program will not enroll students until ARC-PA provisional accreditation is obtained," he said. "This ensures that all students who enter and successfully complete the program are eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination."

The few faculty members already present in the graduate program have already begun working with undergraduate students in the School of Health Sciences — something Archambault said would continue as the program develops.

Diane Duffy, director of clinical education for the program, serves as a co-mentor to an undergraduate exercise science major's research project on pediatric obesity, and Patti Reagan, physician assistant associate professor, works with the advisory council for the public health major to collaborate on her epidemiology research.

"As the program develops and the full complement of faculty are brought on campus, we'll support and help deliver services to undergraduate students interested in the health professions," Archambault said.

The inaugural class, which will include 38 students, will begin the program in January 2013. Archambault said applications were made available Oct. 28, and the program received more than 60 applications in the first two weeks. The school will begin conducting student interviews in January 2012 until all spaces are filled.