A years-long effort to establish a medical school at the University of Texas is about to reach a major milestone.
A committee of the UT System Board of Regents is scheduled to review the university’s $334.5 million proposal Wednesday, and the full board is expected to sign off Thursday. The plan calls for issuing bonds to build and equip an academic building, a research building, a medical office building and a parking garage at the southern edge of campus.
Officials hope to open the school’s doors to 50 entering medical students in fall 2016; a previous goal of fall 2015 has been deemed overly optimistic.
“This will put UT-Austin in the top 10 public and private universities in the nation,” predicted Pedro Reyes, an executive vice chancellor at the UT System. “This is a dream come true in many ways.”
But first the university must turn its architectural concepts into reality, hire a dean and recruit dozens of faculty members. What’s more, it must work out an agreement with the city of Austin to realign Red River Street to accommodate the various components of the medical school. UT would cover the estimated $5 million cost of the realignment.
In addition, UT must firm up plans with the Seton Healthcare Family and Travis County’s health care district for construction of a $250 million teaching hospital on land currently owned by the university. Seton would pay for and own the hospital, and the land would be leased or sold to Central Health, the Travis County district.
The new hospital, which would replace the publicly owned University Medical Center Brackenridge nearby, would be connected to an existing parking garage and the planned medical office building by pedestrian bridges or skywalks.
The university needs approvals from the state’s higher education agency and accreditors, but in an unusual twist for a state institution of higher learning, it does not need the blessing of the Texas Legislature.
That’s because state law empowers the regents to establish a medical school and because the university is not seeking money from the Legislature, at least not yet. Once students are enrolled, the university will request so-called formula funding, which is allocated to the state’s academic and health institutions based on the number of students and other factors.
Under Proposition 1, which Travis County voters approved in November, $35 million a year in property taxes is permanently earmarked for services to be provided to needy patients by the medical school. The UT regents have committed at least $25 million a year in endowment money, plus $5 million annually for eight years to buy equipment. And the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has pledged $50 million to the school, which will be named the Dell Medical School.
The proposal before the UT regents is more ambitious than an earlier plan, which had a price tag of $233 million but did not include a medical office building and a garage. Planning remains fluid, with a possibility that the office building could be constructed in conjunction with a private developer, said Pat Clubb, vice president for university operations.
Also to be determined: a new location for UT’s tennis courts, which would be eliminated, and for sculptures and other elements of Centennial Park, green space that marked the university’s 100th anniversary in 1983.
The Erwin Center, which hosts basketball games, concerts and various community functions, would remain — at least for the next several years. But the university’s draft “medical district master plan” calls for moving the Erwin Center in six to 15 years to make room for additional buildings as the medical complex expands.
Future elements of the UT-Seton-Central Health complex, according to the draft plan, could include a 120-bed psychiatric hospital, a cancer center, a second medical office building, additional parking garages, and more academic and research buildings. An expansion of the Travis County medical examiner’s office is contemplated, but county officials are also in early discussions with counterparts in Williamson County about developing a joint medical examiner’s office, perhaps in a new location.
The draft plan extols the virtues of carving out space just west or south of the complex for an “innovation district,” where biotech firms, startups and other companies could set up shop. That would require negotiations with other landowners, including the state of Texas, which owns a number of parking garages in the area.
The first order of business is to move with dispatch on designing and constructing the medical school and recruiting top talent, said Steven Leslie, UT’s executive vice president and provost.
“The proof of success will be in how we attend to the idea that the excellence of the medical school will come from the excellence of the faculty and the research. And that will pull in excellent students,” Leslie said.
Medical school plan by the numbers
$334.5 million: Bonds to pay for first phase
515,000 square feet: Total area for an academic building, a research building, a medical office building and a parking garage
1,000: Spaces in parking garage
$250 million: Teaching hospital planned by the Seton Healthcare Family
480,000 square feet: Size of teaching hospital
Fall 2016: Projected opening of school
50: Entering medical students
175: Residents (doctors undergoing additional training)
350: Residents after 10 years
70: Faculty members