NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Old Dominion University signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday for a major partnership to help health issues in Hampton Roads.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said ODU President Brian Hemphill.

“On a scale of one to 10, it falls right behind I think Old Dominion University being opened,” added ODU Dean of College Health Sciences Dr. Bonnie Van Lunen.

ODU officials announced a partnership with Norfolk State University and Eastern Virginia Medical School. The effort will be supported by Sentara Healthcare.

The universities are teaming up to open the joint “ONE School of Public Health.”

“It’s a powerful partnership, but I think it will be transformative for this community,” Hemphill said.

“We have a lot of complex health issues in our community,” added ODU Provost Dr. Austin Agho. “Health disparities is a major concern for all of us.”

“I think the school will be able to tackle problems that we were never able to tackle on our own,” Van Lunen said.

They will look at problems such as why Hampton Roads residents have a shorter lifespan, more heart disease and a higher infant mortality rate.

“A lot of the work will be done to access the health of the community and look at what resources are needed and do research to help understand the health disparities that we have,” said EVMS Interim President Dr. Alfred Abuhamad.

The new school will be housed in the future Health Sciences Building on ODU’s campus. It’s the first of its kind for the commonwealth. The General Assembly is giving both ODU and NSU $2.5 million each to help with the project.

Sentara also split $4 million between ODU and NSU to help develop the school.

“It is the first giant step forward,” Abuhamad added. ” A lot of work needs to happen to build the school. A lot of work needs to happen to bring the talent, but this is really a major step forward.”

The ONE School of Public Health will research the issues to help scientists and lawmakers figure out how to make things better.

“We are going to put the world-class researchers together with these health care heroes that are graduating from this program and know that help is coming and it is coming quickly,” Hemphill said.

The goal is to have the school accredited and open by 2024.