April 23, 2009

Medical College Hopes Weill Donation Will Set Precedent

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The $170 million donation that Sanford Weill ’55 advanced to the University ahead of schedule in January is more valuable than its monetary worth alone, college officials say.
“We needed it as an inspiration … for others to come forward … with a gift,” said Stephen Cohen, associate provost and executive vice dean for administration and finance at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Around $135 million of the total donation will be used to fund the construction of a new 480,000 square foot medical research center in New York City, while the remainder will be put towards programming in Weill Hall, the new life sciences building on the Ithaca campus.
Antonio Gotto, dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, anticipates that the building will be dedicated in 2011 with complete occupancy occurring in 2013.
According to Gotto, the cost of construction of the building is estimated between $600 and $650 million. In addition to the Weill donation, the medical college has also received around $100 million in other donations for the building.
The college hopes that the Weill donation will stimulate others to proffer donations, Gotto said.
While other donations are still needed to finance the building, Cohen said that without the donation from the Weills, “it would have delayed the construction of the building by a couple of years.”
Even in the current economic climate, Gotto explained that the new building was a necessary investment for the medical school because of the lack of current available research space. He said that there are two very old buildings that are being used for research, although the space is very limited.
The new research building will be 16 floors high, with 14 of those floors being allotted to laboratory space for research, according to Cohen. The research will be focus on cancer, diabetes, heart disease and others. The intention of this new facility is to translate basic research into clinical applications in a faster way than is currently typical.
In addition to creating a new state of the art building with improved research capabilities, the medical college administrators are hoping that this facility will attract some of the best researchers to Cornell. Cohen said that he is hoping the new building will recruit 50 new scientists.
Not only will the recruitment of prominent scientists be an integral part of furthering the reputation of the research center but it will also play a vital role in bringing in more money to the college. Even though the medical college is counting on more donations to help fund the building, the administrators are planning on partially financing the construction through debt. According to Cohen, 70 percent will be financed by philanthropy while 30 percent will be debt-financed.
Steve Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration, said that the true benefit of the Weill donation is that it will limit the amount of debt the University will have to incur.
Golding explained that final approval of the construction of the building is pending approval by the Board of Trustees. In order for approval to be granted, Golding said that the medical college has to prove that it would be capable of handling the debt.
In addition to the estimated $650 million for the construction costs, $300 million will be needed in programming for the center, further increasing the debt the University will have to incur. The expectation is that as new scientists and researchers are brought into the center, the medical research center will attract more grants for research. The medical college is also planning on clinical revenue to help with the funding.
In addition to the required Board of Trustee approval, the new research facility will also be subject to the criteria under the Cornell construction pause.
Tommy Bruce, vice president of University communications, said that it was not unusual for Weill to make his donation before he initially intended.
Bruce called Weill a “very committed Cornellian” and he said that the donation was “an imperative to … position the University to continue to succeed when [it] emerges from [the current financial crisis].”