Its cornerstone may have been laid in the 19th century, but a group of Illinois veterinarians has 21st-century plans for an abandoned college campus — ones that may bring international pork expertise to producers nationwide.

The principals at Carthage Veterinary Service took a monumental step by purchasing a former college in their own western Illinois town of Carthage. Under the banner of Prairieland Investment Group, the practitioners plan to create a unique environment, mixing education about swine health and production with agribusinesses and civic uses.

The 13 buildings that make up the abandoned campus were most recently known as the World Christian Ambassador Mission, but it started out as CarthageCollege in 1870.

“Purchasing the college was a unique opportunity for CVS and Professional Swine Management to address our business needs and help the community,” says Doug Groth, DVM, who is a principal investor along with Joe Connor, DVM, and Bill Hollis, DVM. “This is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment, but it’s one that we think will help meet a need in the U.S. pork industry for more swine production training.”

The project’s primary driver is to grow the educational and training capabilities of swine veterinary and management businesses, with the overriding theme of “Excellence in Learning.” The facilities will evolve into the LearningCenter during the next few years. Specifically, Groth says the LearningCenter will offer a hands-on venue for pork industry professionals to share their expertise with attendees, ranging from herdsmen to management to sales representatives. The center will offer classroom instruction, training CDs and in-barn education.

“We’ll have greater ability to build on the Training Toolbox programs we’ve developed for producers, employees and other industry professionals on a variety of swine-related topics,” he adds.

Joining the LearningCenter will be the BusinessTechnologyCenter, designed to house other ag-related businesses. Along with modern office space, tenants will have access to modular training facilities and much more. Groth says four pork-related businesses have already expressed interest in relocating to the campus when it’s ready for occupancy, which may be a year or more from now.

The 55 employees and veterinarians involved with CVS and the swine-management service will be the first to move on to the campus. That’s expected to occur within six months or so. Nine of the 13 buildings will be renovated, with the others razed — a process which will take several years to complete.

“We definitely need the new office space for our growing practice,” Groth says.

Reaching beyond their own geography, the Carthage veterinarians have already considered how this venture could integrate into educational opportunities by the National Pork Board and other groups. “We’re seeking partnerships to reach common goals,” Groth says. “It’s exciting to hear positive feedback from different parts of the country, and it inspires our group to continue to drive forward to complete the project.”

According to Paul Sundberg, DVM, NPB’s vice president of science and technology, the pork industry has identified human-capital development as a critical issue. “The safety and image of our product is critical to maintaining consumer confidence. We need a sufficient supply of well-trained people skilled in proper production techniques, from how to use animal-health products to animal handling to biosecurity and more.”

Sundberg says NPB will explore ways to work with the new LearningCenter complex if it’s an efficient and effective use of checkoff funds. “We welcome new industry innovations, and this project appears to be part of a growing trend of veterinarians expanding their roles into information transfer.”

“The college purchase presented a unique opportunity to address our needs, those of the community and the pork industry,” Groth says. “This is a large undertaking. but we continue to get positive feedback.”