JACKSONVILLE — Regional Medical Center will donate its Jacksonville hospital to Jacksonville State University after closing it on June 30.

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Regional Medical Center Jacksonville's emergency room entrance. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)

The building will meet the university’s immediate needs for space to house some students and parts of the nursing program following campus damage from the March 19 tornado. But JSU officials say they have greater plans for the hospital in the coming years, from possibly expanding the nursing program to opening a public clinic there.

“We’re really thankful to RMC for their generosity,” John Beehler, JSU’s president, said at a news conference Thursday. “We have an awful lot of needs.”

RMC officials said Thursday they’d been seriously considering closing the hospital for the past year. However, JSU only started looking at using the building after it toured the site a few weeks ago, Beehler said.

Beehler said JSU’s most immediate need is student housing in the fall. The tornado significantly damaged some off-campus homes and apartment complexes that housed students.

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“Lots of students were displaced from off-campus living by the tornado ... that’s our biggest challenge for next year,” Beehler said. “A lot of our students want to come back and we need to house those students.”

Beehler said there are enough rooms at the hospital to house 66 students. All the rooms will be ready when the fall semester starts in August, Beehler said.

“Each room has a bathroom and some have showers and they’re sizeable ... some are larger than the dorms we have on campus,” he said. “They look almost fully ready to go now.”

Christie Shelton, dean of JSU’s School of Health Professions and Wellness, said the nursing program will move its nursing skills labs to the hospital.

“That’s a very important part of the curriculum,” Shelton said. “And I’ve already communicated with students last week that we would have a place for the labs ... to not worry because the program would be intact.”

Wallace Hall, which houses the nursing program, was damaged by the tornado. It’s currently being renovated and won’t reopen until at least next spring, Shelton said. As a result, most nursing classes will be held in the Houston Cole Library this fall, she said.

The nursing program has had a presence at the Jacksonville hospital for years.

JSU opened a simulation center in 2016 at the Brookstone Physician Center next door to the hospital. Also, nursing students have rotated through the hospital for clinicals in the past. The university also has its doctorate of nursing practice program at the hospital.

Shelton said having a hospital with so many nursing programs there could mean greater training opportunities for students than before.

“What I’d like to see happen is a lot of interdisciplinary work to happen there,” Shelton said. “And there may be the opportunity for us to have a nurse practitioner-led clinic there one day.”

Shelton said much planning is needed before the nursing program can take full advantage of the hospital. Still, having the facility gives the nursing program an advantage over most others in the state — only the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of South Alabama have anything comparable, she said.

“This is something you usually only see in academic health centers,” Shelton said. “Considering what we are, it’s a tremendous asset.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.