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UB sets sights on new medical school University to begin planning facility, hopes to relocate downtown within 5 years

The University at Buffalo is moving full speed ahead with plans to build a new $375 million medical school downtown within the next five years, now that state lawmakers have paved the way with sweeping legislation.

"We're hoping the total project will take five years," UB President Satish K. Tripathi said Saturday, "so by 2016 we should have it done."

The $35 million in state seed money to help relocate the medical school from the South Campus on Main Street to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was just one of the financial goodies dished out by the State Legislature during the late-night hours on Friday.

UB would pay for the majority of the new medical school through multiple sources, Tripathi said, including university philanthropy and annual construction funds.

UB also received some assurances that it will be given the flexibility to partner with a private entity, like Kaleida Health, to make the medical school part of a much larger building project that would help keep down construction costs, Tripathi said.

The next stage is to begin planning the building, determining what is feasible and selecting a site, the president said.

"To me," Tripathi said, "it seems like the tipping point for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus."

Tripathi was "very happy" with the measures passed by the State Legislature, most notably the ability for four-year SUNY campuses to raise tuition by $300 a year over the next five years for in-state undergraduate students.

For students, that's a 30 percent hike over five years. The current in-state tuition is $4,970.

But Tripathi said UB -- which has endured $80 million in state cuts over the past few years -- is going to use that money toward hiring faculty and improving academic programs.

"Our student-faculty ratio is out of whack compared to our peers and these resources coming in will provide money to hire faculty," he said. "The major focus is to improve the academic excellence. The tuition money is really all going to improve the quality of education and the quality of instruction."

UB did not get everything it wanted from the state.

UB and SUNY's other three research universities -- Binghamton, Albany and Stony Brook -- wanted to be able to hike tuition higher than the other SUNY campuses, but that didn't fly with the Legislature.

The four, however, will be allowed to charge a new $75 fee.

The four SUNY centers also will be able to raise tuition 10 percent for out-of-state students. That will benefit UB, in particular, because of the large numbers of international students it enrolls.

Presidents from cash-strapped SUNY campuses around the state also applauded the new five-year "rational" tuition policy.

"Future historians of the State University of New York will recognize this successful effort as one of the pivotal junctures in the history of public higher education," said Dennis L. Hefner, president of Fredonia State College. "Elimination of tuition uncertainty not only aids SUNY's efforts to plan effectively and serve as an economic engine for the state, but also guarantees future SUNY students access to a quality public higher education system."

Buffalo State President Aaron Podolefsky echoed the same sentiments.

"Buffalo State is committed to providing today's students access to a quality higher education experience," Podolefsky said. "This responsible tuition plan ensures we will be able to continue to fulfill that commitment, while also giving our students the predictability they deserve in order to plan for the future."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com