Archive for Wednesday, September 10, 2008

KU Hospital Board members unofficially warm to triangle tax

September 10, 2008

Westwood - Although they won't say it officially, members of the Kansas University Hospital Board see the sales tax initiative that before Johnson County voters in November as a prescription for economic and social success.

"It's a wonderful initiative," said Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center and board member of the KU Hospital Authority, during a board meeting Tuesday morning in Westwood. "I think it's a really incredible opportunity."

On Nov. 4, Johnson County will decide whether 1/8th sales tax will be used to create some high-tech, higher-education and health-building efforts.

The facilities will be financed by paying an extra penny on every $8 they spend for food, cars and other purchases.

The money from the1/8-cent sales tax would generate an estimated $15 million a year in Johnson County, enough to create a triangle of facilities designed to turn the area into a powerhouse for fighting cancer, battling animal diseases and providing engineering, business and other advanced educations.

While board members declined to formally endorse Johnson County's plan - as members of a state agency, they were advised by legal counsel to refrain from doing so - members listened intently and offered general support as fellow board member Bob Regnier touted the plan's goals and outlined its financial projections.

"We can still put signs in our lawns," said Karen Miller, a board member and dean of KU's Schools of Nursing and Allied Health.

Regnier, a member of the authority's board and chairman of the campaign to establish the Johnson County Research and Education Triangle, found an eager audience when discussing the plan's particulars, which would include giving the KU Cancer Center $5 million a year to open and operate a new Cancer Clinical Research Center.

The clinical research center would occupy an office building that would be donated to the effort by the Hall Family Foundation, then converted - using $25 million for construction and equipment - into a 70,000-square-foot space for research and offices.

The project, which would need $750,000 a year for operations and maintenance, would conduct early-stage clinical trials in KU's drug pipeline - a lineup that already has 70 drugs in the works, with more than half of them targeting cancer.

The building for clinical trials would be located in Fairway, and is considered a key component in the KU Cancer Center's ongoing push to earn a National Cancer Institute designation.

"With expanded research comes expanded treatment," Regnier told board members, noting that patients needn't turn to places such as the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas for expert care. "The goal is to have this be the place that people go first."

Earlier Tuesday, at the KU Medical Center, members of the new Midwest Cancer Alliance Partners Advisory Board approved a resolution supporting Johnson County's sales-tax initiative.

If approved, the sales tax also would finance two other projects as part of the triangle:

¢ K-State National Food and Animal Health Institute, planned for the K-State Innovation Campus in Olathe. It would cover 103,000 square feet, cost $28 million for construction and equipment, and consume $950,000 a year for operations and maintenance. It would accommodate 1,000 students a year, offer up to 15 master's degrees and as many as 30 certification programs.

¢ KU Business, Engineering, Science and Technology Center at KU's Edwards Campus in Overland Park. The so-called BEST Center would cover 75,000 square feet, cost $23.3 million for construction and equipment, and require $650,000 a year for operations and maintenance. The center would offer 10 new degree programs and accommodate up to 1,000 students a year.

Regnier invited fellow board members to attend the triangle campaign's formal kickoff event, set from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at Ranch Mart North Shopping Center, 3836 W. 95th St. in Leawood.

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