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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

UW, Gonzaga announce plans to expand health sciences with new $60 million building

Gonzaga University and the University of Washington Medical School announced the development of a new Regional Health Partnership Building. (Gonzaga / Gonzaga University)

The University of Washington and Gonzaga University are expanding their health sciences partnership in Spokane after both universities announced they will move several programs to a new $60 million building.

Both universities approved lease agreements with McKinstry, a Seattle-founded design and construction company with local offices in Spokane, to build a new health sciences building adjacent to the Gonzaga campus.

McKinstry will build the four-story, 80,000-square-foot building on East Spokane Falls Boulevard, next to McKinstry’s historic Spokane Inland Empire Railroad Building. Construction will begin next spring, and the new health sciences building is slated to be complete by August 2022. McKinstry will own the building, but lease out space to both UW and Gonzaga for their health sciences programs.

The UW School of Medicine’s five-state regional program, called the WWAMI program, has 120 students in Spokane for their first two years of medical school. Those students will move into the new building, as well as the physician assistants MEDEX program, which has 30 to 35 students. Gonzaga University’s undergraduate human physiology program, which has 210 students, will also move to the building.

“We have been very, very lucky to be using the facility we are, but it wasn’t built purposely for medical education,” UW president Ana Mari Cauce said at the announcement on Monday. “This new facility will meet the long-term space needs of our medical education partnership.”

The WWAMI program enables UW medical students to learn in many rural health care settings in Washington, as well as Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, after their first two years in Spokane.

“We know that health care disparities exist; the research is very clear. There are communities across this state that have very, very different health care outcomes, and that’s not something we want,” Cauce said. “This partnership and new facility is a part of how we remedy those disparities and make sure that we don’t have any community left behind.”

The new building will enable undergraduate students at Gonzaga to learn in the same environment as graduate medical and physician assistant students. Thayne McCulloh, president of Gonzaga University, said the initial intention of the partnership between the two universities in 2016 was to expand to a new building, as well as expand programs.

“We envision new health science programs here, solid research opportunities for our community and increasingly more collaborative efforts in this new state-of-the-art space,” McCulloh said on Monday.

The building will not be solely for academics, and one floor will be empty, at least at first.

McKinstry CEO Dean Allen said the plan is to have medical companies or nonprofits take up residence there and grow the medical research community. He envisions a wide spectrum of research in the building from biomedical to epidemiological research or even database management, all focused on health care.

“If you think about having research, it also makes it so the health care systems in town are better able to recruit physicians,” Allen said.

The building will have new anatomy and research labs and on-site solar and renewable energy generation. There will be an underground parking lot as well as fitness facilities and retail space. McKinstry’s railroad building will be turned over to the health sciences and add 57,000 square feet to the new health sciences space.

The construction will transform the entire peninsula along the Spokane River at 840 E. Spokane Falls Blvd. into a health care hub, which will sit right across the river from the Washington State University Health Sciences campus.

The UW Board of Regents approved a 12-year lease agreement at their Monday meeting in Spokane, and the Gonzaga Board of Trustees approved theirs earlier this year. Gonzaga University is also a co-developer on the project.

The UW School of Medicine has trained students in the WWAMI program for decades but began a partnership with Gonzaga in 2016; 220 medical students and 85 physician assistant students have completed their studies since then.

Design and budget teams are already set on the project, and Allen estimated that demolition of the current building at 840 E. Spokane Falls Blvd. will begin in spring 2020.

State Sen. Andy Billig applauded the partnership and collaboration between both public and private partners to expand the health-care teaching system in the Spokane region and university district.

“That collaboration is what made this progress, and it’s so Spokane to come together like that,” he said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.