UMN Medical School lobbies state legislature for new health facility as rankings lag

The University is asking for $69.3 million in state money for a new health sciences building.

Governor Dayton gives his State of the State Address at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Daily File Photo

Governor Dayton gives his State of the State Address at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Ryan Faircloth

The University of Minnesota Medical School could resuscitate its fallen school ranking if granted state funding for a new health facility.

University officials are asking the Legislature for $69.3 million in capital funding this session for a new health sciences education facility — which some say could provide learning advantages for medical, dentistry and pharmacy students.

But legislators want a detailed plan for the medical school before approving funding for the $104 million project.

Although the University asked lawmakers to fund the health sciences building last year, no bonding bill passed before the session ended. Early last month, Gov. Mark Dayton recommended $67 million for the project in his proposed bonding package.

The medical school was ranked a top 15 research school in the 1970s. It has since fallen to the mid-thirties due to a declined research focus and deterioration of the University’s medical center, said University Regent Tom Devine.

“Some of the medical delivery buildings over there, they’re just not state-of-the-art,” Devine said. “And we’re not turning out [the] state-of-the-art, top-notch people that we once did.”

University Medical School Dean Brooks Jackson said the renovation would help students by providing updated technology and learning spaces and attract more prospective students.

Jackson said the new building would act as a central location where health science students of different backgrounds could interact.

The proposed health sciences building could boost morale for many medical students, said Erica Levine, executive president of the University Medical School Student Council.

Students currently sit in “very dark, stadium-style classrooms,” many of which don’t have windows, Levine said.

“There were days during medical school that I went three weeks without seeing the sun because we were there before the sun comes up and we’d leave after the sun goes down,” she said.

Students ended up petitioning the medical school to get ultraviolet lamps for its lounge — located in the Mayo Memorial Building basement — to try to “ward off depression,” she said.

A new facility would also provide the school with needed extra space since class sizes will likely rise next year to satisfy Minnesota’s health care workforce demands, Jackson said.

But Devine said lawmakers have voiced concerns over the school’s vision, asking officials to make a comprehensive plan of which medical school buildings need replacement and how much each will cost.

“What they’re really looking at is what’s our full plan over, say, 10 or 15 years to rebuild the medical education areas and the research areas going forward,” Devine said.

And while he said regents are committed to restoring the school’s ranking, they haven’t yet developed their vision for the medical school.

“[The ranking] slide happened … relatively quickly, but the climb back to the top is a much slower process,” he said.

Still, some think other issues should be addressed before funding new projects.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said University officials often focus on projects they want and ignore issues that cause concern for legislators.

Hayden said he’d like to see the University address the recent athletics department scandal and the lack of growth in the school’s African American undergraduate population before discussing new projects like the health sciences building.

“There’s a sense of arrogance that they get to decide what’s important,” he said.