CARSON CITY — The Nevada Legislature on Monday pushed forward with a bill to allocate $25 million in new money to UNLV’s fledgling medical school, contingent upon getting a private donor to match the state funding.
The funding was added to Senate Bill 553 by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. The bill also appropriates $1.75 million for advance planning for a UNLV College of Engineering Academic and Research Building.
The reason for the last-minute move became clear later Monday when Gov. Brian Sandoval hosted legislative leaders as he signed the major budget bills. During the ceremony in the Old Assembly Chambers in the Capitol, Sandoval announced an anonymous donation already in hand for $25 million.
Sandoval said he got a call two weeks ago saying the contribution would be made if the Legislature made the first investment for the construction of the medical school.
He held up the check for everyone to see and noted it is the largest donation he has seen as governor.
The $25 million will be placed under the control of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, which will release the funds upon finalizing the donor match.
Lawmakers were told total construction costs for the school are estimated at between $100 million and $200 million. The cost depends in part on the size of the medical school classes, which could be 120 students or 180 students.
A budget bill sent to Sandoval will increase general fund support for the medical school from $19.6 million this year to $21.8 million in 2017-18 and $30.2 million in 2018-19.
The UNLV School of Medicine received preliminary accreditation status in October 2016, confirming that it could accept 60 students for its charter class beginning in the fall. More than 900 applications were received, with about 60 percent coming from Nevada residents.
The State Board of Regents recently called into question the school’s fundraising strategy, which centers on finding a $100 million donor to fund the construction of the new medical education building. Medical School Dean Barbara Atkinson previously said that the school would secure the donor by the close of the current legislative session.
A ‘complete surprise’
Regent Trevor Hayes said the donation was a “complete surprise,” as the money was not listed as a high priority in the budget request from the Nevada System of Higher Education. Planning money for a new engineering building on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ campus was.
“Any time the Legislature wants to support higher education, I’m very thankful,” he said. “I think it would be a better fit for the engineering building because we need to spur more donations for it, as compared to a project for which we’ve been told for two years that a major donor has been coming in any day now.”
Atkinson said she’s pleased with the amount, which will allow the school to move forward with architectural drawings and a full plan for the building.
“There’s a good chance we’ll have the rest by the time we need to start the building,” she said.
Staff writer Natalie Bruzda contributed to this report. Contact Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.