In the foothills east of Salt Lake City, the University of Utah is injecting an economic booster shot into the state.
New construction projects, mainly at the U. Health Sciences Center, are under way - and very little of their more than $125 million in cost comes from tax dollars."When you look around the Utah skyline, you tend to see more cranes up at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center than you do at most any place else along the Wasatch Front," said Dr. Cecil O. Samuelson Jr., vice president for health sciences. "Important derivatives for the whole state come from that kind of building."
A total of six buildings are under construction - five at the Health Sciences Center and one, the Alice Sheets Marriott Center for Dance, on lower campus. Only $3.4 million out of the total of more than $125 million comes from state coffers.
By far the largest project to loom over the Salt Lake Valley is the new Primary Children's Medical Center. The $67 million facility, paid for entirely by Intermountain Health Care and private donors, is being built on state-owned land northwest of the University Health Sciences Center. The lease to IHC is $1 annually.
"The reason we were able to give IHC essentially free use of the ground is because they have agreed to make the hospital completely available to us for education and research programs," Samuelson said. "The major benefactors will be the children because we have the possibility of two `B' or `B'-plus operations - Primary and the U. - coming together in one truly `A'-plus operation that will be one of the half a dozen best in the world.
"It's one of those rare, but important, things where it's win/win for everyone."
That includes taxpayers.
Thanks to multimillion-dollar gifts from the Howard Hughes Medical and the George S. and Delores Eccles Foundation, the "world-class" Eccles Medical Science Genetics building is under construction. The state/university contribution to the $25 million project is about $1 million - reimbursed overhead money the Legislature allowed the university to keep to foster research programs.
No direct state funds were appropriated for that project, or the health science center's new $4 million animal resource facility.
According to Samuelson, a $20 million medical biopolymer building will be constructed during the next couple of years with federal funds, earmarked to support the specific kinds of research on artificial parts that is being done at the U.
A new Ophthmic Care and Research Center, which will house the U. Department of Ophthalmology, will also be constructed with a multimillion-dollar gift from a U. alumnus, who lives in New York. Private money from other individual donors will help make the building a reality.
Another private donation - $2 million from the Marriott family - will turn a long-awaited dream into reality next summer on the lower campus. U. dancers will finally say goodbye to the deteriorating Dance Building, which has been condemned by the state fire marshal, when the Alice Sheets Marriott Center for Dance, located east of the Henry Eyring Chemistry Building, is finished in January.
The donation, plus a $3.4 million state appropriation, will give Utah one of only a few buildings in the country that will be used solely for dance, said Nancee Cortes Hathaway, assistant dean for development, U. College of Fine Arts.
The new center will house both the ballet and modern dance departments. It will include six rehearsal halls, one faculty reheasral hall, 21 offices and a 337-seat theater.
"I think it's remarkable how the university receives donations. We couldn't possibly exist without private money," said Hathaway.
It took 25 years for a new dance building to finally reach the top of the state building priority, but that came only after the U. faced the possibility of eliminating its renown dance programs because of inadequate housing. Still, even with the state appropriation, the new building could not have been constructed without the private money, Hathaway said.
The new construction underscores the importance that private, as well as state, donations have always played in maintaining the health of public institutions.
The U. Hospital, for example, was built in 1965 with a combination of state and private money. On a future construction list, the hospital will have to be modified to meet seismic codes.
But Samuelson said that during these lean budget years, hospital officials haven't felt it prudent to ask the state for hospital renovation money.
On the other hand, he said, the state should be proud of its hilltop investment and should be concerned about protecting it.