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KU moving forward on planning for a dental school despite legislative setback

— University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod said Wednesday that the university will continue doing preliminary planning work on establishing a dental school at the Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kan., despite the fact that a key legislative committee voted recently not to approve funding this year to launch such a school.

"It's a long budget process, so we'll see how it plays out in the end," Girod said in an interview during a break in a Kansas Board of Regents meeting Wednesday. "We've been asked by the Regents to do a design process on that, so we'll continue down that road."

The Regents voted in June to authorize spending $2.5 million for architectural plans for converting the old Dykes Library on the Medical Center campus into a dental school, a project that is roughly estimated to cost upwards of $32 million.

Meanwhile, former Gov. Sam Brownback proposed adding $3 million to the Regents' budget for the upcoming fiscal year to begin construction work on that project.

And even though Brownback is no longer governor, that proposal is still considered part of the "governor's budget proposal" that the Legislature is using as the framework for the budget it will eventually pass at the end of this session.

Last week, however, the House Higher Education Budget Committee voted to strip out that $3 million from the draft budget that it forwarded to the full House Appropriations Committee.

Matt Casey, director of government relations for the Board of Regents, said several members expressed concern about making such a commitment while the state is not yet in a financial position to make a long-term commitment to building the school and fully funding it in future years.

Girod said KU can move forward with the architectural plans because money for that will come out of the state's Educational Building Fund, a pot of money that comes from a statewide property tax for university buildings, and which is largely under the discretion of the Board of Regents.

Still, Girod, a former executive vice chancellor of the medical school, said he thinks establishing a dental school in Kansas is important in the long term to addressing a critical lack of dental care in Kansas, particularly in rural western Kansas.

"There have been two statewide oral health task forces that have looked at this, and looked at a series of different solutions, prior to this whole effort, and out of that came the recommendation that in the long term, we need a dental school," he said.

There are currently no dental schools located in the state. Most dentists who practice in Kansas train at either the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Nebraska or other schools that have an agreement with the state to reserve a certain number of seats for Kansas residents.

Supporters of establishing a Kansas dental school, however, say those other schools do not offer enough seats for Kansans to fill the state's need for more dentists. In addition, many Kansas students who go to those schools do not necessarily return to Kansas to practice.

Football practice facility

Also at Wednesday's Board of Regents Meeting, Girod announced that KU has settled on a location for its planned new $26 million indoor practice facility for its men's football team.

Girod said after examining a number of possible sites, the university has settled on a site directly west of Memorial Stadium, running parallel to the existing playing field.

The Regents authorized construction of the facility in November, pending a final decision on where to place it.

Girod said the site just west of the existing stadium was chosen because it doesn't require taking out as much existing parking space as other sites around the stadium that were considered.

He said the university plans to break ground on the new practice facility in March.

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