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Regents approve donor-funded medical building at UNLV

Updated January 30, 2020 - 5:13 pm

The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents Thursday approved the broad framework for a new, privately-funded medical school building at UNLV, subject to mutually-agreed conditions with the project’s donors that require construction to start by Feb. 1 of next year.

Only one regent voted against the deal, under which the private donor group would fund construction of the roughly $155 million facility, leasing it back to UNLV for $1 a year before turning it over entirely in 2030. Construction would be completed in 2025.

“If we are to become a state of the art medical school that innovates and changes the health care landscape in Southern Nevada, we need facilities to make that goal a reality,” Marta Meana, UNLV’s acting president, told the board before the vote. “What we have before us today is a once in a generation opportunity thanks to the remarkable generosity of a group of community members who have been strongly invested in this medical school since its inception, and in UNLV for decades.”

Regent Rick Trachok, the lone dissenter, said he found conditions attached to the deal unacceptable.

‘Many string attached’

“This is not an outright gift, he said. “There are many strings attached.”

The private donor route for the new facility emerged in November, when Gov. Steve Sisolak announced it as an alternative to the $125 million bond measure approved by the regents in July. The donors would join come together under an project-specific nonprofit corporation, the Nevada Health and Bioscience Asset Corp.

Critics of the deal expressed concerns that NSHE and UNLV potentially would have to surrender to the donor corporation too much control over the operation, management and programming.

The agreement approved Thursday, officials said, addresses those concerns by spelling out the following conditions:

  • Donors will control the nonprofit corporation, which is responsible for financing and overseeing construction and furnishing of the building.
  • UNLV and NSHE will convey the deed to the land to the corporation, subject to approval by the Clark County Commission to remove existing deed restrictions. The property can only be used for the medical building and related activities at UNLV’s School of Medicine.
  • UNLV will transfer architectural designs to the corporation, which may modify them consistent with the overall plan for the facility. The construction project will pay prevailing wage.
  • Construction will start by Feb 1 , 2021. If it does not, control reverts to UNLV and the Board of Regents. It will be completed Feb. 1, 2025, and the corporation will then lease the building to UNLV for $1 annually for five years, with UNLV paying all operating costs and establishing a reserve for continued maintenance.
  • Significantly, for those who worried about ceding control to an outside group, the corporation under the agreement “will have no authority over the curriculum, administration, faculty, students or policies” of the building or the School of Medicine. It will, however, retain the basic rights of a landlord.
  • UNLV, the Board of Regents and the donor group will mutually agree on naming the building and its facilities, such as lecture halls.

‘Collaborative negotiating process’

Trachok asked for clarification on how control of the project might revert to UNLV and the Board of Regents if, for example, it is stalled for lack of funding or by litigation. Lawyers addressed each scenario in turn, saying that where the agreement itself did not prescribe a remedy or protect the school’s interests, state code or contract law did. But Trachok was not persuaded.

“As trustees, we must weigh the interests of our present and future students with our obligations as trustees of the system,” he said. “Sometimes, the price of a gift is too high. For me, in this case it is too high.”

But Regent Carol Del Carlo commended the parties for finding a middle ground.

“We don’t always get everything we want, but we don’t lose everything, either,” she said. “And that’s what a collaborative negotiating process is all about.”

She added: “Everyone in this room knows we have a critical shortage of doctors, and I really applaud the donors that have carved out a whole new model.”

The Engelstad Foundation, a lead donor to the project, did not return a request for comment.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.