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College Board approves less debt for children’s hospital

The University of Mississippi Medical Center won approval Thursday from College Board trustees to borrow up to $91 million from outside sources to finance expansion of its children’s hospital.

The hospital and medical education complex had asked trustees for permission to borrow up to $132 million. But parent University of Mississippi is now agreeing to lend up to $40 million over the medium term to the medical center from its own cash reserves, instead of borrowing that money from a bank. Medical center officials say they may not need all that money, planning to pay for construction in part using private donations and state bond money.

“I just want to thank the university for working with the medical center,” said trustee Alan Perry of Jackson. “I think we’re to a place where we all feel comfortable.”

The move was unanimously approved Thursday after trustees had expressed concern during a committee meeting a day earlier that the whole $132 million might be too much debt. Perry said the internal lending reduces the risk profile. Medical Center officials say they’re confident they could pay all the debt. The medical center has $1.7 billion in annual revenue.

Officials hope to start construction later this year on a $180 million project that would more than double the space available in the hospital. A new tower would be built beside the current Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, creating space for private neonatal intensive care rooms, a pediatric intensive care unit, operating rooms and imaging devices designed especially for children.

“Your confidence in moving the children’s hospital forward is making, and will make, a great difference for Mississippi,” said Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter.

The medical center continues to ask lawmakers to borrow $24 million on the hospital’s behalf that would be paid back from state revenues, on top of the $6 million in bond money the Legislature has already granted. Private donors have given $18 million so far and pledged another $40 million. That puts the hospital $58 million toward a goal of raising $100 million.

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