ABOR approves plan for conference center bond sales; NAU to seek funding support for allied health programs

Northern Arizona University plans to begin work in August on the conference center and parking structure, thanks to action by the Arizona Board of Regents that allows for the sale of bonds to finance the project.

At its meeting June 22 on campus, ABOR approved the formation of a limited liability company to issue bonds. The LLC will ground lease the site from NAU and will own the project during the financing term. The facilities will transfer to the university once the bonds have been paid.

The university will close the large parking lot (P1) across from the North Union on Aug.1 to start work on the project. The university anticipates construction of the adjacent 150-room hotel by Drury Hotels will occur in tandem with the building of the conference center and parking structure.

The total cost of the project is expected to be about $14 million, financed by $10 million from the sale of bonds, $2 million from the city of Flagstaff and $2 million from Proposition 301 funds for economic development.

“This is one of the first joint capital projects with the city of Flagstaff,” said NAU President John Haeger. The business plan presented at the ABOR meeting projects that the hotel and conference center will pump about $7 million a year into the Flagstaff economy.

The business plan projects the conference center will become self supporting approximately six years after it opens. The conference center is scheduled to be completed early in 2008.

In addition, Haeger also made a presentation to the regents about the university’s intention to seek state funding in fiscal year 2008 to expand existing allied health programs and add new ones. Joining the president for the presentation was Stephen Collier of the School of Health Related Professions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who has been working with NAU on assessing workforce demands in select allied health professions in Arizona.

“What we’re looking at is a substantial expansion of NAU’s role in allied health programs,” said Haeger. “It would move Northern Arizona University to build on the strengths of the institution.” In particular, Haeger noted NAU’s vigorous programs in physical therapy, dental hygiene and the basic sciences.

Collier presented a chart showing workforce shortages in Arizona through 2013 in such professions as physician assistants, medical and health information technicians, radiation therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and medical and clinical lab technologists.

“There currently are shortages and if nothing happens, these will continue to increase as Arizona’s population grows,” said Collier, who also serves as associate director for Health Programs at the Southern Regional Education Board.

Collier said physical therapy is a high demand area, and physicians assistants are becoming increasingly important as a way to extend physician services. He also noted that programs for physicians assistants and occupational therapists provided by for-profit institutions are expensive.

Collier told the regents that the university would need to partner with hospitals and other clinical facilities to expand its allied health programming.

Haeger said the program expansion would create a link between NAU and the proposed medical complex in Phoenix. He also told the regents that if NAU receives the necessary state support, the university would need to reevaluate the scope of its planned expansion of the Health Professions building to accommodate the addition of new allied health programs.

In other action, the regents approved a three-year contract for head basketball coach Mike Adras.