Sisolak announces plan to get UNLV medical school facility across finish line

Tue, Nov 26, 2019 (5:55 p.m.)

On the heels of several furtive efforts to construct a new instructional building for the UNLV School of Medicine, supporters of the school have come up with a new approach to bring the facility to reality.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon with state and local leaders, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the commitment of $155 million from multiple donors toward the construction of a new medical school facility.

“This agreement is a monumental step forward in ensuring that UNLV will have a state-of-the-art medical school that will save taxpayer money, raise the quality of health care and help us combat Nevada’s critical doctor shortage in the face of rapid population growth,” Sisolak said. “This announcement marks a turning point for Nevada in creating a culture of philanthropy that will encourage other individuals and families to contribute to projects and causes that will have positive outcomes for our state.”

Warren Hardy, a former state senator and now lobbyist, said the building will be facilitated through the creation of Nevada Health and Vital Science Asset Corporation, a nonprofit development corporation that plans to build a structure costing $175 million to $200 million and lease it to the university for $1 per year. Workers on the project, Sisolak said, will be paid the prevailing wage.

In addition, the state will contribute $25 million in public funding that had been approved for a building by former Gov. Brian Sandoval, and the development corporation will pursue federal tax credits to use toward construction.

The corporation will be funded mostly by donors, including one who previously gave a $25 million gift to the state toward a previous plan to construct the building.

The location will be nine acres of currently vacant land at 625 Shadow Lane. The size and design of the building will be determined by a committee that will include stakeholders and medical school staff. 

Planning for the building has yet to begin in earnest, but the development corporation believes more than $200 million will be available for the project. 

“This transformational project is so important to the continued growth of the School of Medicine,” acting UNLV President Marta Meana said in a statement. “It will be the education center for countless future doctors who will help meet the complex health care needs of our region. It’s a great day for UNLV, the School of Medicine, our community and our state.”

This is the fourth plan for the new building. The previous three were developed by the Nevada chancellor’s office and UNLV administrators, but each drew opposition from supporters amid tensions between the UNLV community and Nevada’s higher-education overseers.

Those tensions reached a breaking point when former UNLV President Len Jessup, who had strong support in the donor community, resigned in 2018 amid pressure from Chancellor Thom Reilly and several members of the Board of Regents. His departure prompted donors to withdraw millions of dollars in donations and pledges for the medical school building, citing distrust of Reilly and the regents to use their money wisely. Since then, two other plans for the building have failed to launch. 

Under the new plan, NSHE will not control the building. Rather, it will be controlled by the board of the development corporation board, which will consist of donors and community members and others connected to the medical school. Hardy said the members of that board will be announced at a later date.

Donors developed the corporation concept through consultation with a number of individuals and groups. One was Brookings Mountain West, a UNLV research center aligned with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., which examined similar arrangements that yielded successful public-private projects in such metros as Kansas City, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta and Baltimore. 

The UNLV School of Medicine came into being during the 2015 Nevada legislative session, when lawmakers approved $27 million in startup funding for it. The school welcomed its first class two years later.

It currently is housed in facilities on or near UNLV’s Shadow Ridge campus near UMC. The school took a significant step forward last week when it was granted provisional accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the second of three steps needed to become fully accredited. 

In addition to helping meet the region’s needs for physicians, the school is expected to spur related development in the health industry once it is completely built out. The school’s economic impact has been estimated at $3.1 billion.

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