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Archive for Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sales tax paying off for education efforts in Johnson Co.

January 8, 2012

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A new 75,000-square-foot complex on the Kansas University Edwards Campus and a new building that will house Phase I Clinical Trials for the KU Cancer Center are scheduled to open in the coming months.

The funds for the construction are paid for using a one-eighth cent sales tax in Johnson County that is divided equally among the KU Edwards Campus, KU Medical Center and Kansas State University’s Olathe Innovation campus.

The Business, Engineering, Science and Technology center on the KU Edwards Campus is scheduled to open March 2, said Bob Clark, vice chancellor of the Edwards Campus.

Eventually, KU will add 10 degree programs in Johnson County as part of its commitment to voters in return for the sales tax, Clark said. One of those programs, a bachelor’s degree in business administration, is already operating. It’s been a popular one, he said, with more than 100 students enrolled so far.

A second degree program, a bachelor’s degree in information technology through the School of Engineering, is pending approval from the Kansas Board of Regents.

The Edwards Campus hopes to roll out one or two new programs each year until it reaches the 10 new programs, Clark said. A third likely program will be a degree in engineering project management, he said.

KU officials have worked with industry members and other groups to determine what kinds of degree offerings are needed in the workforce.

“We have to offer what it is they’re looking for,” Clark said.

Fred Logan, a Prairie Village attorney and member of the Kansas Board of Regents, was chairman of the campaign to pass the tax. He said at the time of its passage in 2008, it was the first time in the United States that a county’s voters passed a sales tax in support of life sciences and higher education.

“It’s still the only one,” he said.

He said he’s been “thrilled” with the progress of the projects.

The new clinical trials building in Fairway for the KU Cancer Center is set for a late January opening. The Cancer Center hired Ray Perez to serve as the center’s medical director.

After the building opens, KU will be able to dramatically expand the number of patients it sees for experimental drug trials and should jump to one of the top five centers for Phase I trials in the country, Perez said.

The building is light and open and will have top-notch labs and other scientific support areas to complement the patients’ space.

“The thing that it’ll really enable us to do is to have full control over the research process,” Perez said.

Perez said the sales tax was “one of the compelling reasons” why he left his position at Dartmouth University’s cancer center to come to KU.

The sales tax is generating between $13.5 and $14 million per year, said Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Education Research Triangle authority board. That’s under the initial projections of $15 million per year, but the slightly lower collections haven’t had any effect on the projects, Eilert said.

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