Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2020

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UNLV med school donors confident state will honor funding pledge

CARSON CITY — Donors leading the charge to construct the UNLV School of Medicine building believe the state will find $25 million for its portion of funding for the project in the city’s medical district.

Those monies were cut from the budget last month by Gov. Steve Sisolak ahead of a special session of the Nevada Legislature to balance a $1.2 billion budget deficit caused by the pandemic economic crisis.

The building is facilitated through the creation of Nevada Health and Bioscience Asset Corp., a nonprofit development agency established by donors with plans to build a structure costing $175 million to $200 million. It will then be leased to the university for $1 per year.

Maureen Schafer, CEO of Nevada Health and Bioscience Asset Corp., said the state has committed to finding the money within the next year. 

Construction on the 135,000-square-foot building, which is being built on nine acres at 625 Shadow Lane, is two months ahead of schedule, she said. The group hopes for a groundbreaking in November and a completion date of early 2025.

“We’re pretty excited about where the project is at, the design and everything about it right now,” Schafer said.

Warren Hardy, a former state senator and a lobbyist for the project, said construction has not slowed after the state backed out of its funding. Hardy said the $25 million from the state, whenever it does arrive, is statutorily required to be spent last.

“Internally, we received enough assurances from the governor and the Legislature that the full intention is for the state to replace that $25 million, and we’ve gone ahead and continued construction,” Hardy said.

The donors decided they would not provide more money to the project, Hardy said.

“The $25 million will have to be replaced,” Hardy said. “The donors have made it clear that is in the budget and that they’re not going to replace it because, I think, it sends the wrong message if the state doesn’t participate in these kinds of things,” Hardy said.

The group trusts the state’s word, he said, and there have not been conversations about contingency plans for situations in which the $25 million doesn’t come through.

“I can’t imagine that, no matter how dire things get that over the course of the next two fiscal years we’re not going to be able to find $25 million from some source,” Hardy said.

This is the fourth attempt to get construction off the ground. The first three, plans developed by the Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor’s office and UNLV administrators, stalled amid tensions between the UNLV donor community and NSHE.

After the resignation of then-UNLV president Len Jessup in 2018 amid pressure from regents and Chancellor Thom Reilly, the donor community withdrew millions of dollars of donations and pledges.

The medical school, established in 2014, welcomed its first class in 2017. The school currently operates primarily on UNLV’s Shadow Ridge campus.

“There’s no time like difficult times to start doing things the right way when we can, and we need to want to do this project the right way,” Schafer said