Regents approve next step in developing a dental school at KU Medical Center

The University of Kansas Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kan., shown from 39th Street facing east, is pictured June 11, 2017.

? The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., may be one step closer to housing a school of dentistry in the near future.

The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved spending $2.5 million to have architects draw up plans for converting the old Dykes Library on that campus into a dental school, a project that is roughly estimated to cost upwards of $32 million.

Not all Regents were on board with the project, however. Board chairman Dave Murfin, vice chairman Dennis Mullin and Regent Shane Bangerter all voted no in the 7-3 vote, saying there was no guarantee that the Kansas Legislature would ever fund the project, which would make the $2.5 million architectural study a waste.

Gov. Sam Brownback had included funding for the architectural study in the budget plan he submitted to the Legislature last year, but lawmakers removed the money, saying the Board of Regents could fund it from the state’s educational building fund, which receives money from a statewide property tax.

Kansas is currently one of only seven states that does not have a dental school. Instead, the state has a long-standing reciprocal agreement in place with Missouri under which Missouri students can pay in-state tuition to study architecture at Kansas State University, while Kansas students can pay in-state tuition to study dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, or optometry at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Several recent studies, however, have shown there is a severe shortage of dentists in Kansas, particularly in rural areas, and many of those who do practice here are reaching retirement age.

There are 85 seats in the UMKC dental school reserved for Kansas students, which means only about 20 new students can be admitted to the four-year program each year

Regent Daniel Thomas was the main proponent of the project. He said the shortage of dentists in Kansas is serious, and the KU Medical Center was the most viable place to house new school.

He made the motion to authorize spending the money so architects could develop detailed plans that could be used to solicit formal bids.

Regent Ann Brandau-Murguia also supported the measure, saying that by spending the money, the board would be showing the Legislature, and the general public, that it is making dental education a priority for the state.

Mullin, however, argued that even if there was a guarantee that lawmakers would approve the project, $2.5 million was far too high of a price to pay for architectural plans on what is expected to be a $32 million construction project. He suggested there should have been a cap at about $400,000.

In addition to the $32 million in construction cost, officials estimate it would take another $11 million beyond that to get the school up and running, and then it would need about $6.5 million a year in state general fund support to keep it running.

The general plan being discussed calls for a 240-student school that would charge about $43,000 a year for in-state tuition, which officials say is comparable to what UMKC’s dental school is charging.