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(WBIR-University of Tennessee) Five years ago, no one was sure of the future of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology program on the University of Tennessee campus, after proposed budget cuts threatened to eliminate the program altogether.

However, a Friday groundbreaking on the UT Medical Center campus shows the program has made a turnaround.

"Realized how important it is to East Tennessee," said Doctor Steve Ross with UTMC. "It kind of became an opportunity to say how can we make it bigger and stronger?"

The department moved from the College of Arts and Sciences to the UT Health Science Center. That meant moving some administration to the center's main campus in Memphis, but keeping the audiology and speech pathology program here in Knoxville.

"Important to provide a variety of learning experiences and a variety of clients," said the department chair and professor Dr. Ashley Harkrider. "So we try and see as many people as we can."

The new facility should take two years to complete and will cost $20 million.

Dr. Harkrider says the program not only teaches students how to treat these disorders, but also deals directly with patients.

"We provide services for all ages: from birth right up until the very end. Anybody that is struggling with any sort of communicative disorder, we can diagnose that," she added.

The new facility is expected to take two years for construction.

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