With UNLV med school as model, a call for nimbler process for public construction
The corporation behind the construction of the UNLV medical education building has big plans for expansion — and is now pinning its hopes on new legislation that would circumvent the state’s drawn-out process for getting government building projects off the ground.
The Nevada Health and Bioscience Corporation (NHBC) was the corporate vehicle that finally completed the UNLV medical education building after years of starts and stops. At the time, the group touted the completion as a major coup, coming in under budget and ahead of expected deadlines in late 2022.
Now, Maureen Schafer, the company's CEO, told The Nevada Independent that her company is eyeing two new projects: a mental health facility and a new pathology laboratory. But, she argued, state law may need to change in order to expedite the process by allowing NHBC to retain its own “team.”
Schafer said the model has encouraged philanthropic investment “because of the efficiency, the transparency, the access to more efficient builds, while again, having a public, transparent process, like it's a public project.”
Proposed bill language — yet to be introduced, according to lobbyist Warren Hardy — would potentially open the door to similar public-private partnerships that in essence would allow them to avoid the state public works bidding process. That protocol traditionally requires legislative approval for planning funds, construction funds and furnishing funds — often over the course of multiple legislative sessions.
The language would also only apply to development corporations, such as NHBC, that are working on medical education projects.
Without bill language, it's unclear how or if the new law would provide oversight or accountability measures, but backers, including Schafer, have touted the process as "transparent."
Separately, Hardy also said that “whatever language ends up coming out” will likely include a requirement that such projects pay the state’s prevailing wage, a requirement absent from the UNLV medical school project because the construction was largely paid for by private funding.
Still, the move comes as lawmakers have looked to bake public-private partnership guidelines into state law for the Nevada System of Higher Education through a separate bill, AB74. Legislators from both parties have embraced the measure — though only after it was amended to include a requirement to ensure public-private projects still paid the prevailing wage.
What happens if lawmakers don’t move to expand the development corporation model? Hardy suggested that the philanthropic donors in Southern Nevada could balk at future projects.
“We’ve gotten clear indication from the philanthropists we deal with and the community that we deal with that, if things aren’t done through this development corporation concept, they’re really not that interested in being engaged,” Hardy said.