By Greg Grisolano
The prognosis for Missouri Southern State University’s planned medical school could depend on the financial health of the Joplin region.
That’s the message MSSU President Bruce Speck is sending now that the university has decided to rely solely on private funds for the $10 million needed to construct a building to house an osteopathic medical school program.
“When you look at this as a campaign, we’re now in what’s called ‘the silent phase,’” he said. “We are talking with some different people, the steering committee is meeting regularly, and we’re beginning to discuss the opportunities we have here.”
Speck said the committee is waiting on the results of studies aimed at estimating the economic impact a medical school would have on the region, and a feasibility study to determine if the community can support the fundraising campaign.
“I think the feasibility study will demonstrate that we clearly have that capacity here (to raise the $10 million),” Speck said.
The university has entered a partnership with Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences — a private institution — to bring an osteopathic medical degree program to Joplin.
Speck and some members of the steering committee who were interviewed said they are optimistic that the financing can be raised.
“I’ll put it this way: If I didn’t think it was a doable project, I wouldn’t be spending my time on it,” said committee member Bill Gipson.
Gipson, the president and CEO of Empire District Electric Co. in Joplin, said the committee hopes to have an attractive package of information and schematics for the new building in hand before it approaches prospective donors.
“We need to get to a point where we can pull all these things together so we can go out to a potential contributor and present to them its size, its cost,” he said. “We all know it’s going to have a tremendous economic impact for our community and our region. But we need to tie it all down so we can make our case.”
Speck referred questions about the studies to Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the steering committee.
O’Brian said an economic impact survey is under way and is being conducted by National Community Development Services of Atlanta. The company completed a similar series of studies for the Regional Prosperity Initiative launched by the chamber earlier this year.
“The public interest would indicate there would be a high level of financial support,” O’Brian said. “But that’s why you do a feasibility study, to see if the support is there or if you need to re-tailor the goals of your project.”
O’Brian said the economic impact study should be completed by the end of December, and the feasibility study is expected to begin after the holiday season. He said the Joseph Newman Business and Technology Innovation Center provided $30,000 to commission the studies.
The universities hope to launch an inaugural class in the fall of 2012, with 150 students per class and a full enrollment pegged at 600. The joint venture would mark the first public-private partnership in medical education in the state of Missouri, officials say.
MSSU officials previously thought they would need to raise between $4 million and $6 million for a new building.
The costs have changed, Speck said, because Southern is no longer banking on the Kansas City university to provide a “significant” portion of advance rents to cover a portion of the price tag.
The Kansas City school is a private university, and state laws prohibit the commingling of public funds for its operations. MSSU now hopes to raise all the money to finance construction of the new building through private donations. The building would be leased to the Kansas City university, with lease payments to be used to cover maintenance and operating costs.
To avoid any appearance of impropriety and a significant hit on the school’s general operating budget, Speck said, the university must rely on the Kansas City school’s rent to cover the cost of maintenance and upkeep.
“We have clearly come to a point where there can be no public money in this,” he said. “The main reason we took (advance rents) off is because we have to operate it, and those rents are meant to operate it.”
Speck also said the Missouri Southern Foundation has taken out a loan of roughly $250,000 to pay for architectural and engineering plans.
Missouri Southern began developing the idea of a medical school in June 2008. MSSU considered developing its own program, but because of the substantial cost, it began looking for established schools with which to form a partnership. The university joined forces with Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences earlier this year.
In exchange for a “reasonable reimbursement,” MSSU will provide space for classes and labs, while the Kansas City university will provide “all instruction, administrative infrastructure, and required support to make the program a success.” MSSU will retain naming rights for the building.
By Greg Grisolano
- Joplin Metro
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