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New plan for UNLV Medical School building relies on $125M in bonds

Updated July 12, 2019 - 4:33 pm

UNLV is putting forth a new plan to finance its long-awaited medical school building through the sale of $125 million in bonds.

The revised plan, which is on the agenda for the Nevada State Higher Education Board of Regents’ July 19 meeting, would change the size and scope of the project to focus on classrooms and lab space.

The proposed 140,000-square-foot building would have space for clinical study and support services for up to 120 students, leaving faculty and administrative spaces in the existing leased building at 2040 W. Charleston Blvd.

The tax-exempt bonds issued by NSHE would be repaid at $7.35 million per year over a 30-year term. The university hopes to raise donations or use unrestricted internal funds to pay the debt service.

If the fundraising goals are not achieved, the university acknowledges that using unrestricted funds could “substantially limit the availability of campus resources for other institutional priorities,” according to the proposal.

‘No new student fees’

“No new student fees will be imposed in connection with the construction of the MEB,” the agenda item states.

Senior Director of Public Affairs Cindy Brown said the university had no comment on the plans ahead of the NSHE board meeting.

The plan is the third iteration of the building meant to house UNLV’s medical school program, which will welcome its third class of students to the temporary space in the Shadow Lane Biotech Research Center on Monday. The new facility would be still be built on a 9-acre parcel at Shadow and Pinto lanes that the university purchased from the county in 2017 — a sale that stipulated that a UNLV health-related program building be under construction at the site by July 1, 2021.

UNLV envisioned a 220,000-square-foot building to house 180 students as well as faculty and staff at a cost of over $200 million, with a $25 million contribution from the state matched by a $25 million private donation. But cost estimates for the project ballooned, while large private gifts that the university expected to receive never materialized, according to the agenda item.

An updated plan released in August took a more conservative, two-pronged approach that would begin with construction of a 49,000-square-foot health sciences library with money already available.

That plan was scrapped after donors expressed “unease,” acting UNLV President Marta Meana told the Review-Journal in December 2018.

Not relying on state contribution, gift

The new plan does not assume that either the state money or the $25 million private contribution will be available, in case the original anonymous donor — revealed by the Review-Journal in April to be the estate of casino and movie studio magnate Kirk Kerkorian — does not wish to apply the gift to this new proposal.

The university has had other struggles to retain donors to the medical school building: In March 2018, UNLV lost a $14 million gift from the Engelstad Family Foundation due to the ouster of Meana’s predecessor, Len Jessup.

Meanwhile, the state contribution came with a stipulation that it be the last money spent on the project no later than Sept. 17, 2021 — a deadline UNLV now believes it cannot meet.

The agenda item states that the university will ask the Legislature to extend the deadline in order to allow UNLV to keep the funding, an idea Meana brought up at a March 20 meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

The agenda item specifically asks NSHE to allow Meana to pursue the plan as outlined, though UNLV will return to the board for approval of a financing resolution. If the plan is not approved, UNLV has no alternatives to fund the medical school at this time.

The Board of Regents meets at noon next Friday at 4300 S. Maryland Parkway, with video teleconferencing available at the NSHE administration building in Reno or Great Basin College in Elko.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218 or follow her on Twitter @aleksappleton.

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