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Old Posted Sep 28, 2009, 11:57 AM
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Medical-school growth in limbo
Committee has declined to green-light downtown project

3 comments by Jahna Berry - Sept. 28, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

University officials are putting the final touches on plans to build a $164 million building that will expand downtown Phoenix's medical school and high-profile biomedical campus.

But the project is stuck in political limbo and it's unclear if construction crews will break ground in February, as planned.

"It will be difficult until we get moving through the Legislature," said Jaime Molera, a University of Arizona lobbyist.

On Thursday, the Arizona Board of Regents unanimously approved plans for the Health Sciences Education Building, a 265,000-square-foot facility that will house lecture halls, an anatomy lab, a simulation center and a library that will be used by the University of Arizona and Arizona State University.

The building will be located on the 28-acre Phoenix Biomedical Campus that's taking shape downtown. The hub includes the medical school, Translational Genomics Research Institute and ABC1 - a medical-research building used by ASU and UA.

Down the road, supporters would like to build a hospital and more research buildings.

The campus is part of Arizona's longtime quest to grow the state's bioscience industry. Phoenix owns the land and the campus is part of city plans to redevelop downtown.

The Health Sciences Education Building is also a key part of plans to expand the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University, which opened in 2007.

Without the new building, the downtown medical school can't grow much bigger, said Judy Bernas, an associate vice president at the University of Arizona.

Right now, it has 120 students and could have a maximum of 192. But the original plan calls for a school that would eventually have 480 students. The school won't have enough room for that many students until the Health Sciences Building is complete, UA officials say.

Funding for the project has been approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer through the state budget process. The building would be paid for by bonds that would be paid off with lottery revenue.

But a handful of powerful Republican lawmakers are using a bureaucratic procedure to put the brakes on the project.

State-funded building projects must go through the Joint Committee on Capital Review before they can begin. The panel doesn't have to approve the projects; it just has to review them.

Sen. Russell Pearce, who chairs the panel, has declined to review the project. Pearce could not be reached for comment Friday.

Rep. John Kavanagh, vice chairman of the panel, said he wasn't familiar with details of the medical-school project. But he said that generally, due to the state's budget crisis, the committee wants to re-examine projects that have already been approved by the Legislature.

The committee is not opposed to all university projects, Kavanagh said.

"The only concern is projects where the funding has dried up, or that it may be better spent doing other things, like keeping tuition down for students," said Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican.

The committee is also scrutinizing projects that rely on state-lottery money, he said.

Because of the weak economy, lottery funds aren't as strong as they used to be. The state still faces a budget crisis and money set aside for projects such as the Health Sciences Education Building may be needed elsewhere, Kavanagh said.
Fucking Russell Pearce! Every time some article hints at some knuckle-dragging obstruction, his name pops up.
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