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Hall foundation gift propels KU Med Center building project

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Above image credit: Among the officials on hand for Tuesday's announcement of a gift to the University of Kansas Medical Center were from right to left: Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation; Kurt Watson, co-chair of KU’s Far Above fundraising campaign; Bernadette Gray-Little, KU chancellor; Fred Logan, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents; Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor, KU Med. (Photo by Jim McLean/KHI News Service)
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A $25 million gift from the Hall Family Foundation has generated the funds needed by the University of Kansas to move forward with a critical building project on its medical center campus.

The gift, announced Tuesday at the KU Med Center, gives the university most of the $75 million needed to construct a new medical education building. The new facility will replace an aging building that doesn’t meet modern classroom standards and needs more than $5 million in repairs.

“We’ve been limited by the size and capabilities of our current health education facility. Well, that’s about to change,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “Once complete, the new building will allow us to increase the number of doctors that we train each year and train them in technologically advanced environments that are required by modern health care education curricula.”

Currently, KU admits 211 students to the medical school each year. The new building will give it the capacity to admit up to 260.

“It positions KU to address the state’s doctor shortage head on,” Gray-Little said.

The medical school was recently re-accredited but evaluators flagged its aging classroom facilities. Construction of the new building should eliminate those concerns going forward, said Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor of the medical school.

“It will eliminate that situation entirely,” Girod said.

University officials have been working for years to piece together funding for the building project. They raised $15 million internally and successfully lobbied lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback to issue $25 million in state construction bonds.  The Hall foundation gift brings the total raised or pledged to $65 million. The remaining $10 million will be raised from other private donors as part of the university’s Far Above campaign.

“We want to make this a reality and that means we’ve got work to do. But assuredly, assuredly, we will make this happen together,” said Kurt Watson, co-chair of the fundraising campaign.

Gray-Little said she did not expect the recent downgrade of KU’s bond rating by Moody’s Investor’s Service to significantly increase the cost of the project.

“I have been told that the likely increase in the cost of the bonds would be minimal because of that change,” she said.

Even with the downgrade from Aa1 to Aa2, university’s rating remains investment grade.

Moody’s said it downgraded KU because state funding remains below pre-recession levels. The rating service said that any further “decline in state support” could result in another downgrade.

Moody’s also downgraded the state’s overall bond rating. That action was triggered by news that state tax revenues fell $93 million short of official projections in April.

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