UC Irvine gained approval Thursday to open a much anticipated school of nursing that will double the number of nursing students in a decade, helping meet the expected demands of an aging population.

UC Regents voted to establish the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing, propelled by a $40 million donation given by the Gross Family Foundation last year. Construction of a building on campus will begin in 2018.

“Everyone is just celebrating,” said Adeline “Adey” Nyamathi, dean of the nursing school. “This is such a monumental moment for UCI nursing.”

Nyamathi said in 10 years the school will go from its current enrollment of 218 bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. students, to 432 students. Nursing faculty will increase from 17 to 34.

The program will produce more front-line nurses and create more nursing faculty and researchers, which Nyamathi said will be crucial for solving some of the challenges in health care. The nursing school is the fourth in the UC system.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 16 percent by 2024. The “much faster” than average growth is tied to greater emphasis on preventative care, growing rates of chronic disease and demand from aging baby boomers. In 2014, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing said schools were struggling to expand capacity to meet projected needs.

At UCI, space limitations have made nursing one of the most competitive majors with an acceptance rate of 3.6 percent. The campus received more than 2,450 applications in the fall for 40 freshman slots.

While some local community colleges offer two-year nursing degrees, UCI and Cal State Fullerton are the only public schools offering bachelor’s and advanced nursing degrees.

Patti Aube, director of nursing professional development at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, welcomed more bachelor’s nursing slots in Orange County. She said she’s been impressed by the UCI nursing students who have done their clinical rotations at St. Joseph.

“We find the quality of their students to be very good,” she said. “They are well educated, they are prepared to enter the working environment. We like to have them.”

UCI began offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing in 2007. In 2009, it began offering an M.S. in nursing science and a post-master’s nurse practitioner certificate program. In 2013, it expanded to offer Ph.Ds.

Nyamathi said the nursing school will address real-world challenges and focus on community needs. For instance, she said repeat visits to hospital emergency rooms could be prevented by transitional models of nursing care that keep patients safe in their homes at a lower cost and with better health outcomes.

“Nursing needs to step up and take leadership in making changes to practice,” she said. “We will be changing the way that health care is delivered.”

Justin Reyes, who is pursuing his doctorate in nursing at UCI, said establishing a school will bring more recognition.

“It helps bring nursing to the forefront because most people don’t even know that UC Irvine has a nursing program,” Reyes said. “I think it’s definitely going to bring a lot more appeal to UC Irvine because nursing is a very sought after degree and career.”

The gift to establish the nursing school is the largest in UCI’s history. Bill Gross co-founded Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO), a global investment management firm based in Newport Beach.