Spokane Journal of Business

UW, WSU seek funds for Riverpoint building

Joint effort encourages Spokane business leaders who want med school

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The University of Washington has joined Washington State University in asking the state to appropriate funds to construct a 100,000-square-foot building on the Riverpoint Campus here that would house a proposed four-year medical school and the WSU School of Pharmacy.

The two universities have worked together for months to urge development of a four-year medical school here through an expansion of the University of Washington Medical School, which is in Seattle.

Previously, however, the UW had remained neutral on the subject of funding for the building, says Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, which has been a key advocate of a medical school here.

"They're supportive now," Hadley says.

Each state school has its own projects and funding priorities, and it's unusual for one state university to support another's request for money, Hadley says. He says that if the Washington Legislature appropriates money to build the planned $72 million Biomedical/Health Sciences Phase 1 Building, "it's WSU's capital." He adds, "It's very helpful for UW to say they're supportive."

Already, 20 first-year UW medical students receive instruction here, and 20 more receive it in Pullman, through the WWAMI program, which stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho, the five states from which the students come. The students receive their second year of instruction at the UW Medical School in Seattle, then receive their clinical education in their third and fourth years at locations across the five states.

Last year, a task force concluded that it's feasible to establish a four-year medical school here, and a second task force found support in the medical community for third- and fourth-year medical student clerkships. Their joint report said Washington and the nation face looming shortages of physicians and recommended enlarging the number of first-year medical students in Spokane to 80 and giving them their second year of instruction here as well, with their clinical education to follow in this region.

The UW and WSU made their requests for construction funds to the Washington state Office of Financial Management, Hadley says. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire will make her budget recommendations to the Legislature later.

Last week, WSU's board of regents approved requests to the Legislature for just under $71 million to build the building and $600,000 in start-up money for the WWAMI program to offer a second year of studies here. UW is seeking $1.2 million in such start-up funds, which would include planning the curriculum for the additional instruction here, WSU spokeswoman Barb Chamberlain says.

Graham Construction & Management Inc., of Spokane, has been named general contractor and construction manager for the building, which the Seattle architectural firm NBBJ is designing. Some $7.8 million was approved earlier for design work, and if the money is approved to build the structure, which would be part of a multiphase complex, it's hoped that ground would be broken next summer, and the building would be completed in two years, Chamberlain says.

"It's our No. 1 priority on our whole capital projects list," she says.

Hadley says that some members of the business community here have wondered whether the UW would continue to support the medical school expansion after UW President Mark Emmert left to become president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association earlier this year. Emmert had come out strongly for expansion of the UW medical school here.

"Everybody's worried about what's going to happen," Hadley says. He says the UW is conducting a search now to find a permanent replacement for Emmert, and GSI was to host a meeting here Wednesday, Sept. 8, of the UW presidential search committee, at which Spokane business leaders were expected to talk with the committee about the UW's support for the proposed medical school and other subjects.

In addition, Spokane business leaders will meet with Paul Ramsey, dean of the UW medical school, in October to stay in touch with him, Hadley says.

"We're doing everything we can to anticipate the kinds of steps we need to take" to maintain the UW's support for the medical school expansion, he says.

That expansion is the No. 1 priority of GSI, partly because it could be a big potential driver of medical research at universities and hospitals here and of the Spokane and Inland Northwest economies in the future, Hadley says.

"It's awesome. It's huge. It's transformational," Hadley says. He says the project also is supported by the public, which is aware of the nation's need to educate more doctors.

"This is the project that people understand," Hadley says. "Everybody's a patient. Everybody knows what a hospital is."

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