Wigton gift makes possible welcome and history center at UNMC

Wigton gift makes possible welcome and history center at UNMC

A new welcome and campus history center will showcase the unique heritage of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

The Wigton Heritage Center will be built in conjunction with the Wittson Hall renovation project at UNMC and is made possible with a gift commitment from Robert Wigton, M.D., a 1969 alumnus of the College of Medicine who served as professor in internal medicine at UNMC. The Wigton legacy spans three generations with several physicians within the family serving on the faculty of UNMC.

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved the construction and naming on June 28, 2018.

The multi-level glass addition and resulting budget increase – from $18 million to $26 million total – incorporates building the privately-funded $8 million Wigton Heritage Center in the center of campus, while also updating the nearly 50-year-old Wittson Hall with significant modernization of the library and the current building safety codes.

“We are grateful for the support of the private donors who make this project possible. Their UNMC legacies span multiple generations of service at UNMC,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D. “Their commitment to building the Wigton Heritage Center enables us to highlight the unique history of the medical center and the important role it has played both in the state and global leadership throughout medical education.”

The 10,000 square foot Wigton Heritage Center will celebrate and memorialize UNMC’s history, while also serving as a campus welcome center. In addition, the fully privately-funded project will replace the existing walkways between Wittson Hall and University Tower. The buildings will be connected through a multi-floor space.

The center will tell UNMC’s story through gallery and digital exhibit space; showcase the McGoogan Library’s vast special collections, artifacts, archives and rare books; and expose University Hospital’s historic façade and iconic columns within a planned atrium that will serve as a welcoming space for alumni, visitors, new and prospective students and others.

The project will coincide with the renovation of Wittson Hall, an eight-level concrete and masonry structure with approximately 207,000 gross square feet of space. Built in 1971, Wittson Hall provides education space for the Colleges of Medicine and Allied Health Professions, office space for campus administration, research laboratories and support space, and three levels dedicated to the McGoogan Library of Medicine and the Wigton History of Medicine Archives.

In 2013, UNMC leaders used LB 605 funds to complete a partial update of some of Wittson Hall’s building systems (i.e., heating, ventilation and air conditioning). The signing of LB 957 will enable that work to continue by funding the repair and maintenance of various University of Nebraska facilities.

“This project is yet another important example of how public-private partnerships have helped UNMC flourish and fulfill its statewide mission to transform lives. The Wigton Heritage Center will be a transformational gathering place, where we can welcome guests, host events and meet with friends and colleagues,” Gold said.

The board’s action enables UNMC to gain efficiencies in both work schedule and budget by combining the work to be completed by the same low bidder and in the same construction zone. Construction likely will begin over the next several months with completion expected in December 2019.

The Wigton family

Dr. Wigton held numerous academic and administrative positions at the College of Medicine, including associate dean for graduate medical education (1967 to 2013), associate dean for academic affairs and chief of the section of general internal medicine. He has been described as one of the pillars upon which UNMC’s history rests, having long served as the “unofficial campus historian” – an interest, he said, that dates back to his childhood when he got his tonsils out at the medical center.

Dr. Wigton’s father, Robert Spencer Wigton, M.D., was a faculty member for the departments of neurology and psychiatry. Grandfather Harrison Wigton, M.D., practiced psychiatry with the department of neuropsychiatry. Dr. Wigton’s brother, James Harrison Wigton, M.D., also practiced medicine in Omaha. Other family members in the medical profession include Charles Swift, M.D., maternal grandfather; Charles H. Swift Jr., M.D., uncle; and cousins Sharon Swift Rife – a registered nurse and faculty at the UNMC College of Nursing – and Donald Swift, D.O.

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