Friday, Feb. 5, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The UNLV community has gone above and beyond to construct a new building for the university’s medical school, and Gov. Steve Sisolak has done his part by including funding for the building in his budget proposal to the Legislature.
Now, with the 2021 Nevada legislative session underway, it’s time for state lawmakers to bring the funding to the finish line by approving Sisolak’s request for it.
This is a must-have for Southern Nevada and, by extension, for the state.
Sisolak has recognized it as such by reinstating $25 million for the building into his budget proposal. In doing so, he followed up on a commitment he made before the pandemic to get the building off the ground.
It’s commendable that Sisolak followed through, especially considering that the pandemic blew a hole in the state budget that required the governor to withdraw the funding in the early months of the crisis. Considering that the lingering effects of the downturn prompted Sisolak to propose a 2% reduction of overall state funding in his current budget plan, he could have kept it out of the picture and blamed the economic crisis for it.
But that would have been a mistake. Investing in the UNLV School of Medicine will do nothing but help Las Vegas and the entire state recover from the pandemic.
The building, which is already under construction, will allow the med school to reach its planned capacity of 120 students per class. Since the school opened in 2017, it has been operating in spaces that were available to it on the Shadow Ridge campus, and has been limited to 60 students per class.
The expanded classes will help address the shortfall of medical personnel in Southern Nevada — which, as we’ve learned in recent months, is critical. Meanwhile, having a state-of-the-art instruction building will help UNLV in its student recruitment efforts, and will provide the university with a facility that will boost medical research in the region.
Then there’s the school’s potential as an economic driver, which is substantial. As has been shown elsewhere, modern and fully functional medical schools are magnets for bringing new health care providers and researchers to communities. An economic analysis for the UNLV med school forecast its economic impact at $1.2 billion once fully built out — this in a state where the pandemic gave us yet another reminder of the need to diversify our economy so we can rely less on tourism and gaming. The analysis also said the med school would generate 8,000 new jobs.
With so much upside in terms of protecting the health of Southern Nevadans and improving the economy, a state investment of $25 million is a tremendous value.
Keep in mind, too, that the bulk of the funding for the building is coming not from the state but from private sources.
For that, the credit goes to a dedicated group of Southern Nevadans who formed a nonprofit development agency to fund and construct the building with commitments of up to $150 million from donors. The development agency plans to lease the facility to UNLV for $1 per year.
Hats off to those supporters. After dealing with years of interference and mismanagement from the Nevada System of Higher Education, the administrative body that oversees the state’s colleges in a way similar to a superintendent’s office manages schools in a K-12 district, that group persevered and found a way to get the job done.
Now the five-story, 128,000-square-foot building is running ahead of schedule, with targeted completion in summer 2022.
That will be a time for a long-overdue celebration in Las Vegas.
Before the medical school opened, we were the largest metro in the nation without our own med school. Now we’re well on our way to having exactly what we wanted: A full-capacity school housed in a building we can brag about.
Meanwhile, Sisolak’s budget contained more good news in the form of a $36.8 million request to fund an advanced engineering building at UNLV. That’s a much-needed project as well.
Lawmakers will have plenty of tough budget decisions on their hands this year, but approving these for UNLV facilities aren’t among them. Sisolak’s request should sail through the process.