Health
11:21 am
Fri February 14, 2014

Committee 'Green Lights' KU Med Center Building Project

The legislative committee charged with overseeing state building projects today added money to next year’s budget to help the University of Kansas fund construction of a $75 million classroom building on its Kansas City, Kan. campus.

The Joint Committee on State Building Construction voted to add $1.4 million to the fiscal 2015 budget to help pay for bonds that will be issued to fund the project.  The plan is for the state to contribute $15 million over time to help finance up to $35 million in construction bonds.

The committee action was the first step in a budgeting process that typically isn’t finalized until the final weeks of the legislative session.

The university is also seeking legislative approval to use $25 million in disputed Social Security contributions that was recently returned to the state. The money was returned to reimburse the state and the university for several years of contributions they needn’t have made on behalf of medical school residents.

University officials said several million dollars also will be raised from private sources to help pay for the building project.

Bernadette Gray-Little, KU’s chancellor, said the new classroom building is urgently needed so that the medical school can expand incoming classes and train more doctors.

“We have a doctor shortage (in the state) and it’s getting worse,” she said in a presentation prior to the committee vote. “We need 285 new physicians each year for Kansas to rise to the national average of physicians per-capita.”

The medical school, which trains approximately half the doctors in Kansas, currently accepts about 211 new students a year. The new building would allow the school to enroll another 50 students annually starting in 2017.

The proposed structure would replace one built in 1976 that university officials say is outdated and needs $5.3 million in repairs.

Gray-Little said the new building also is needed to meet evolving accreditation standards that require universities to adapt both their curricula and facilities to accommodate new methods of teaching that emphasize active learning in small groups rather than note taking in large lecture halls.

“Our facilities just don’t fit the way that medical education is delivered today,” she said, emphasizing the need for the new facility.

The chancellor’s presentation seemed to make a difference with committee members, who last week voted against the funding request. A motion made by Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, to add money for the project to the Kansas Board of Regents’ budget was approved on a voice vote with no apparent opposition.

Convincing the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to authorize the expenditure of the $25 million in recovered money for the building project could prove to be a bigger challenge for KU officials.

Gray-Little said when the university began efforts to recover the disputed Social Security contributions, its plan called for the money to be returned to the Board of Regents “for re-distribution to the medical center.”

But that’s not what happened.  When the money arrived last year, it was deposited into the state treasury where it remains today – an inviting target for anyone seeking to fund a new project or to plug a hole in the state budget.

This story is provided by the KHI News Service, which is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute.