University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little is scheduled to appear before a legislative committee Thursday to renew a request for state help in financing a state-of-the-art classroom building at its medical school.
In testimony to the Joint Committee on State Building Construction, Gray-Little is expected to say that the $75 million building is urgently needed to meet accreditation standards and to accommodate new ways of teaching that emphasize active learning in small-group settings over note taking in large lecture halls.
“We want to make sure that we have a facility that is adequate to (meet) those standards and that provides us with an opportunity to educate our medical students the way that medical students are educated now rather than the way they were educated 50 years ago,” Gray-Little said in a recent interview.
The proposed structure would replace one built on the school’s Kansas City, Kan. Campus in 1976 that university officials say is outdated and needs $5.3 million of repairs.
The new building also would allow the university to do more to address the growing shortage of physicians across the state, Gray-Little said.
“Part of the reason for the health education building is to allow us to expand the size of our classes,” she said. “We are 39th in terms of the number of physicians for the population. We need to replace physicians at a much higher rate that we’re (now) able to do.”
The university’s plan is to increase students on its Kansas City campus to 200 per class year instead of the current 175.
The university has authority to issue $75 million in bonds to finance construction of the building, but Gray-Little said it can’t afford to move forward with the project unless lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback agree to cover $40 million of the cost.
“This would be a partnership between the state, the university and private donors to make this possible,” she said.
At the start of the session, the governor proposed restoring some of the $33 million in higher-education cuts approved last year. But his budget proposals didn’t include any money for the health education building.
The university is requesting that the state provide $15 million over several years to help it pay off the bonds. In addition, the university wants to use $25 million recently returned to the state to compensate it for Social Security contributions made on behalf of medical school residents that were subsequently deemed unnecessary.
An attempt last week by Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, to add $1.5 million to the fiscal 2015 budget to cover the first debt-service payment failed on a tie vote. She said she is hoping that the chancellor will make a strong enough case to switch a vote or two.
“Some members have expressed an interest in knowing more,” Kelly said. “So, that’s why we asked the chancellor and officials from the Med Center to come over here and educate the committee.”
The committee is scheduled to meet at noon Thursday in room 159-South at the Statehouse.
This story is provided by the KHI News Service, which is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute.