UMMC gets lease approval, plans to start on new school building

GRENADA and JACKSON — The College Board has approved plans by the University of Mississippi Medical Center to lease Grenada Lake Medical Center.

The board voted yesterday, as expected, to approve the lease. It runs for at least 20 years, but could be extended to 50.

UMMC will take over the $37.4 million long-term debt for the 156-bed hospital in Grenada, paying $1.8 million a year to retire it as part of the lease.

Grenada County supervisors voted late last year to enter into talks with UMMC after seeking proposals for the county-owned hospital.

Under the agreement, UMMC would start managing the hospital Sept. 1 and would begin the lease in 2014.

Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. James Keeton says UMMC will expand services and train more physicians at the hospital.

In a separate item, UMMC plans to start construction on its new medical school building this fall.

The College Board yesterday approved increasing the budget for the building to $35.5 million, using $31 million in state bonds that the Legislature approved borrowing earlier this year.

The board also approved $10 million to move, replace and add to utilities to accommodate the new building. That money comes from a federal community development grant that Gov. Phil Bryant steered to the school. UMMC projects it will need another $30.5 million to finish the building, and is counting on a pledge by the Legislature to borrow that money through bonds in 2014.

The four-story building is expected to have 138,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, offices and training space. Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the medical school, said the new structure will include an entire floor devoted to simulating medical procedures with electronic mannequins and computers. Right now, those functions are squeezed into former offices and part of the basement.

A joint venture of two architecture firms is designing the building, with renderings showing a structure with the same buff brick that dominates the rest of the sprawling UMMC complex north of downtown Jackson.

Documents presented to the College Board show a contractor has yet to be selected. Keeton said construction is expected to take two years. “We would like to put a class in there in August 2016,” he said.

The building will relieve overcrowding and allow the school to expand each year’s incoming class to 165 from the current 140. Keeton said the building is large enough to allow the school to eventually expand to classes as large as 200. Any such expansion would require more money and approval by accreditors.

Yesterday, at a health care summit, Bryant again touted training more physicians through the medical school as part of his plan to increase medicine’s contribution to Mississippi’s economy.

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