U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, toured St. Ambrose University’s new Health Sciences Building on Wednesday, an $11.5 million facility aimed at boosting the quality of health-care education in the area.

Harkin got $1.6 million in earmarked funds for the 40,000-square-foot building that houses physical and occupational therapy and nursing classes.

The building is a joint initiative of St. Ambrose and Genesis Health System, which donated $3 million in construction funds, as well as the land at Marquette and Lombard streets.

Harkin was accompanied on the tour by Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was in the state for meetings with the senator and a tour of the Scott County Health Department.

The pair visited with students who were beginning classes and were briefed on technologies, including a mannequin that simulates human functions from breathing to blood pressure and pulse rate.

Harkin said the building is an example of how earmarks, scorned by budget hawks, are useful.

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“We’re going to have better nurses, better health-care professionals, especially in the area of prevention and wellness,” Harkin said. “To me, this is a good investment of taxpayer money.”

The new facility replaced an aging and smaller building on Harrison Street that had housed the programs.