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SOVS, UNSW opens new wing

The School of Optometry and Vision Science (SOVS) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) opened its new wing at an official ceremony on 26 February 2019.

The opening was one of Professor Fiona Stapleton’s last official duties as the outgoing head of school, which was fitting given that the entirety of the project was planned and completed on her watch.

The new head of school, Professor Lisa Keay, who had been in the hot seat for less than a month at the time, was also part of the ceremony. Some of the new wing has been in use since the beginning of the 2019 academic year.

Stapleton opened the evening with a brief overview of the history of, and motivation for, the expansion. In attendance were many alumni of the SOVS, including students, academic staff, and support staff. Also at the opening were UNSW Estate Management and ARCHIBUS staff involved in the project, as well as donors and industry representatives.

The expansion had been in various planning stages since 2014, fuelled in no small part by ever-expanding student numbers. Over the course of the project, student numbers increased from 250 to around 500, while the number of staff more than doubled.

At its earliest stages, the project moved slowly until the pressing need for an expanded facility was confirmed by a UNSW audit of the SOVS facilities. The need for more offices was one such factor; many staff were housed two to an office.

As a result of that audit, detailed planning and design work commenced and the construction and renovations officially started in 2018. The $3.7 million project involved extensive renovations to existing SOVS’ facilities on Level 2 of the Rupert Myers Building, a revamp of extensive but existing laboratory space on Level 3 occupied previously by the Brien Holden Vision Institute, and the purchase of new furniture and equipment.

Despite its formerly cramped facilities, the SOVS was still able to attain a ranking of 6th among the world’s schools and colleges of optometry based on research output. That is no mean feat considering the size, resources, and clout of many international schools, especially those in North America.

The new wing houses both undergraduate and post-graduate facilities, and includes flexible teaching spaces. All furniture is mobile, making all education spaces configurable. Screen-based control panels, computers, multiple large screens, lectern cameras, room projectors, and conference cameras and microphones were installed as appropriate.

Given the ever changing and expanding scope of optometric practice, the new facility should make it easier for the SOVS to meet those changing expectations and provide the Australian public with ongoing quality eye care. The increased capacity to do research at a world-class level should allow SOVS to retain, if not improve on, their current world ranking.

Some of the donors who supported the project by in-kind support, such as equipment, financial support, or both, includes Essilor, Frames Etcetera, Hoya, ODMA, Opticare, ProVision, Rodenstock, Zeiss, Professor Charles McMonnies, and Mr Grant Hannaford, a SOVS visiting optical dispensing educator.

The former UNSW vice chancellor Professor Rupert Myers, after whom the optometry building was named, died on his 98th birthday (21 Feb 1921 to 21 Feb 2019), just days before the new wing’s opening.


SOVS Expansion Gallery


UNSW's new optics lab

Professor Fiona Stapleton (left) and Professor Lisa Keay (right)
Professor Fiona Stapleton (left) and Professor Lisa Keay (right)

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