UH regent questions
feasibility of funding
for medical school

A University of Hawaii regent is raising questions about the lack of planning and money to pay for the operating costs of the new $150 million medical school building in Kakaako.

"I don't want this to be another Kapolei Library," said Board of Regents Vice Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta, referring to the state library in West Oahu that sat empty after it was completed because money was appropriated for construction but funds were cut for the operating budget.

Lagareta said she was angry that the operating costs and a strategic plan for the medical school and research facilities were not fully thought out before the construction project was approved.

Her comments came during an update on the John A. Burns School of Medicine during yesterday's board meeting.

UH President David McClain told the regents that tough decisions will have to be made about the medical school soon, including whether to raise tuition to cover increased operating costs and whether to split the medical school off from UH-Manoa.

Ricky Ching, manager of finance and business affairs for the medical school, said it is estimated that the medical school and research facility will need $7.7 million for operating costs in the 2006 fiscal year.

The school would also like to spend about $4 million to hire top researchers and faculty who can attract grant money.

Ching said the school estimates it has about $5.6 million in its current budget to cover operating costs and salaries but is asking the Legislature for an additional $6.1 million.

The $10 million-a-year cost of paying back the bonds used to build the medical school is coming from the state's share of the tobacco settlement.

It is hoped that the medical school and the research associated with the school will eventually generate enough money so the school can pay for itself and create a new biotechnology industry in Kakaako.

"It's a great vision, but how do we actually deliver on that?" Lagareta asked. "I'm not seeing everyone who wanted to get the building in the ground come out and deliver."

McClain told the regents: "There's always a way to deliver. If you don't have the money, you can deliver slower."

McClain said one option for funding the school is to raise tuition, currently at $15,432 a year for residents and $29,135 a year for nonresidents.

Senate Ways and Means Co-chairman Brian Taniguchi said it is still too early in the legislative session to know how much money the medical school will get.

He said the priority for the Senate is to make sure the school is funded.

"The ultimate thing is to maintain the instructional side of the medical school," Taniguchi said.

McClain noted the medical school requires an entrepreneurial mentality and that there is a risk associated with the state's investment.

One of the risks is that funding for the National Institutes of Health is likely to remain stagnant, making it more difficult for UH to increase its share of research money from the federal government.

University of Hawaii System

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