Build joint center for nurse training by RIC, URI
MICHAEL SABITONI / LAURIE WHITE
Rhode Island’s building trades and business community are working together to make
progress on jobs and economic development. A critical project in our sights is the
proposal by Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island to build and share a
new joint Nursing Education and Research Center at an as-yet-undetermined site in
Providence, a proposal that would save more than $20 million over building separate
facilities at each school.
We commend the General Assembly for insisting that a rigorous analysis be done to
explore costs, site options, student-enrollment trends, workforce patterns and competitive
pressures. The feasibility study, published in May 2011, was endorsed unanimously by
all three presidents of Rhode Island’s public institutions of higher education, all members
of the feasibility-study committee, by health-care leaders in the state and by senior
economic advisers. The study’s findings are clear: Constructing a single, joint facility in
Providence is a cost-effective, practical and innovative approach with short- and long-
term benefits for our state.
First, the study confirms why public investment in Rhode Island’s nursing-education
capacity is desperately needed:
• To resolve the woefully inadequate public nursing facilities used to educate students
— now antiquated, too small, and too environmentally compromised to serve the present
and future needs of Rhode Island’s public nursing educators and students.
• To provide a jobs pipeline for Rhode Islanders along all points of the nursing-skills
spectrum. The state Department of Labor and Training notes that half of all the new jobs
expected to be created through 2018 will relate to health-care delivery and research. In
their respective leadership roles, URI, RIC and the Community College of Rhode Island
share a vision to honor diversity by attracting, educating and graduating a student body
that mirrors Rhode Island’s own ethnic and racial diversity.
• To establish the most technologically advanced nursing-simulation education facility
in the Northeast to educate students from baccalaureate to doctoral levels in the science
of healing and caring for Rhode Islanders who face complex health-care challenges.
• To foster innovation and research in collaboration with the many medical facilities
and health-care partners already in the Knowledge District.
• To establish Rhode Island as a national center for state-of-the-art education of nurses
and to promote the economic development of the state in this critically important
Current space limitations restrict the number of nursing students that may be enrolled.
With the new center in place, URI and RIC will be able to increase combined
undergraduate enrollment from the current 1,161 students to 1,745 by 2019, and graduate
enrollment from 131 students to 399 in 2019.
The study also examined several financing options for design and construction of a
new joint facility through a general-obligation bond referendum or through a
public/private partnership. Governor Chafee, recognizing the importance of this project to
the state, included it in his budget as a bond referendum. We thank him for his critical
support of this initiative, and since that time, for his support in exploring a public/private
partnership. His office has worked diligently with URI and RIC over the past several
months to further explore viability and competitiveness of constructing the nursing center
as a public/private partnership — a vehicle that we strongly support.
The state would collaborate with a private developer and the nursing-education center
would be a tenant in a much larger facility. The state would be responsible for the rent on
the 130,000 square feet leased for the nursing-education center; the developer would be at
risk for constructing and leasing other areas of the building.
A request for proposals would be issued to solicit bids to build a facility that would
encompass the nursing-education center as an anchor tenant for a term of 25 years (the
incentive for a private developer to partner with the state) and additional wet laboratory
and research space to be marketed and leased to other tenants: life sciences companies,
bio-tech firms, start-ups, research enterprises, etc.
What are the benefits to this approach? It is timely as state leaders seek ways to kick-
start the sale and development of land freed up by moving Route 195. In advance of the
sale of that land, this project would give Rhode Island a competitive edge and show that
we are committed to building a knowledge economy that will support innovation,
research and enterprise.
A private/public partnership would let construction commence in 2013, unleashing a
torrent of new jobs when they are desperately needed. Rhode Island’s unemployment
rate, particularly in the construction trades, continues to be frightening. Likewise,
hundreds of small businesses and their fragile workforces are sidelined waiting for the
next wave of building activity. This project could be a lifesaver in many dimensions.
It is time to act. Today, the cost of new construction is very favorable and the pent-up
demand for jobs and economic activity is feverish. With all the sobering issues on our
horizon, here’s a process and a result that we can all get behind.
Michael Sabitoni is President of the Rhode Island Building and Construction
Laurie White is President of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.