Controversial relationship helped propel efforts to build UNLV medical school

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Kris Engelstad McGarry has made no secret of his difficult relationship with the board of directors of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

In fact, she attributes this tension to an unintentional catalyst leading to the construction of a multi-million dollar project for the University of Nevada, the Las Vegas Medical School building.

This difficult relationship has opened the door to a new way for donors to get involved in higher education in the Silver State.

“This is probably the only time you’ll hear me say this, but I have to thank the regents for it,” said McGarry, Engelstad Foundation administrator and longtime Las Vegas philanthropist. “If they hadn’t been so difficult, we would never have found the need to go ahead and train this group, to fund ourselves and do it on our own.”

The Nevada Health and Bioscience Corporation was formed in 2019 after years of back-and-forth between donors and the Nevada System of Higher Education, most notably when Engelstad withdrew a $ 14 million pledge for the project because then UNLV president Len Jessup stepped down. . Regents later considered funding the school’s home base through a bond measure, according to a previous Review-Journal report.

Instead, NHBC, a nonprofit made up of several local philanthropists who wanted to contribute to the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, combined their funding and a $ 25 million state contribution.

Other philanthropists on the project include MaryKaye Cashman, of Cashman Equipment; Lindy Schumacher, of the Lincy Institute; and Marianne Johnson, of Boyd Gaming. The team worked with the founding dean of the School of Medicine, Barbara Atkinson, on the project.

“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 results for our state,” said the governor Steve Sisolak in 2019, when the donor-led plan was announced.

The approximately 135,000 square foot building, on Shadow Lane in the Las Vegas Medical District, is ahead of schedule and is expected to open in June. It will have an educational space, lounge areas, a digital library and sub-committee rooms. The fifth floor will house the administration of the medical school, faculty offices and conference rooms.

Although the public-private partnership is unusual in Nevada, Engelstad said she took the idea from her father. Ralph Engelstad has established a development company that owns and operates the Ralph Engelstad Hockey Arena at the University of North Dakota. The family foundation donated $ 110 million to build the facility and handle the maintenance and upkeep under a 30-year lease with the university.

The medical school building will function in the same way. The UNLV and NHBC entered into a triple net lease, at $ 1 a year for the first five years, officials said.

“Train for the best”

Despite the controversial fundraising process, the Dean of the UNLV School of Medicine, Marc Kahn, said future projects could involve more public-private partnerships to avoid limitations resulting from the tight budgets of the UNLV. State and declining funding for higher education.

“I think it definitely worked for the best,” Kahn said. “As public entities move forward in this community, for buildings and other capital projects, these triple-P’s, or public-private partnerships, are a good way forward. It will be a way for the medical school (and) the university to get the facilities they need without depending solely on state funds, which are limited and limited by taxes and limited by priority and all. rest.

NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose said in a statement it was “well established” that higher education systems and institutions cannot rely solely on state funding, tuition fees and support. philanthropy, especially for investment projects.

“Innovative funding methods and unique collaborations such as public-private partnerships not only create financial opportunities for higher education institutions, but also strengthen relationships within the communities served by colleges and universities,” said Rose said.

She noted that the NSHE and the Board of Regents have long supported the use of such private partnerships throughout Nevada’s public higher education system.

“The Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine building is a prime example of how NSHE institutions can work with the private sector to fund critical investment projects serving our students and communities,” said Rose in the press release.

Less bureaucracy

A notable result of the new process has been a faster process without bureaucracy, stakeholders said.

“It was wonderful to work with the company because they could make decisions, take them quickly and act quickly,” said Atkinson, the former dean. “They did all the same things the state would have done, but the state would have taken a lot longer to accomplish everything.

“I think no one other than a private company could have incorporated it all and done it so quickly,” she added.

The pace of the project was important, Atkinson said. The medical school had to prove that it had an established long-term space to achieve full accreditation, a step that occurs when the first class of students enter their fourth year. The school achieved full accreditation in February.

Stakeholders also expect the building to have an economic impact on the area, dubbed the medical district. Kahn wants him to “be the face of the medical district” and attract other businesses that could serve students and workers in the area.

But beyond that, having the building gives the school a place where students can learn collaboratively in one space and accommodate larger classes, she said. The building, combined with full scholarships for the charter class that graduated in the spring of 2021, was all part of the larger effort to make medical school a reality.

“Donors have done more than just donate money,” Atkinson said. “They really helped make it all happen and make it happen in a first class way and without compromising on quality, or whatever as we go along.”

McKenna Ross is a member of the corps for Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.


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