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By Jennifer Johnson, Forum News Service, Published February 07 2013

UND requests $124 million from Legislature for building upgrades

BISMARCK – University of North Dakota medical school officials asked legislators Thursday for $55.7 million in addition to $68 million planned toward a new facility they say will help recruit more students and generate millions in savings.

In a second round of testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, UND leaders pushed for the extra money through a separate bill. They’re hoping for a total of $124 million toward a new building to address growing enrollment and the state’s increased health care needs.

According to a UND student, a new facility would not only attract but retain students in North Dakota, which has an increasing aging population, a shortage of health care providers and a surge in population from the oil boom.

Medical school leaders said the new building’s cost could be offset by demolishing older buildings and turning others into student housing.

The proposed new building would be built just north of the present medical school and be complete in 2016. The idea recently won unanimous support from the UND student senate but drew concerns from some legislators.

UND leaders spoke to the Senate Appropriations Committee last month to provide details about Senate Bill 2003, the North Dakota University System’s proposed budget, and their preference for a new facility over a $68 million renovation and expansion of the current building, a plan backed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Sen. Ralph Kilzer, R-Bismarck, questioned the cost of the new building, the most expensive of the three options, and whether the expense would be justified.

“What are we going to look like two generations from now? Will we have twice as many graduates in the programs as we do now?” he said. “I think the studies have been good, but for this kind of a huge investment, we should have the best guesses possible.”

Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, told legislators a new building rather than a renovated one is better for the long haul – it would generate $36.9 million over 40 years and without maintenance costs would be less expensive than remodeling the current one.

“Over time, it is the most prudent financial investment,” he said. “We believe it optimizes the educational experience for all students.”

The building will also act as a good way to retain students and get more of them into residencies in rural areas and possibly taking jobs there, said Jim Long, CEO of West River Health Services in Hettinger.

If students complete a residency in the western part of the state, it will help other facilities in the region, he said.

“I think it is very important to the western half of the state and potentially all of our rural systems,” he said.

Alice Brekke, vice president of UND finance and operations, said the university is considering several ways to cut costs by remodeling the current building, a former hospital built in 1952. One idea involves demolishing as many as eight buildings on campus, estimated to save $360,000 per year in operating costs that would go to support the new medical school building.