Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s inclusion in his state budget for next year of $500,000 to design a new downtown Providence advanced-nursing school was done without fanfare. The provision wasn’t even included in his published budget highlights or his state-of-the-state address.
And it was a retreat from a year earlier, when Chafee pitched borrowing $65 million to build the school in Providence’s Knowledge District to be shared by the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.
But after digesting the budget, advanced-nursing-center advocates are more optimistic about the current approach to the project – seen as a potential catalyst for growth of the Providence research economy – than they were about the bond proposal.
“This is a positive sign,” said Bob Weygand, vice president for administration and finance at URI, about the governor’s proposal.
Although $500,000 for design work seems a minor commitment for such a large project, unlike the $65 million bond, it leaves open the possibility that the nursing school could be part of a larger complex developed in concert with the private sector.
Under the public-private concept, the two public nursing schools would be anchor tenants in a privately built research facility that could also include speculative laboratory, office or clinical space.
Weygand and Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger describe the governor’s proposal as a kind of budget placeholder, signaling his support once higher education and General Assembly leaders can agree on what to pursue.
“The governor’s preference on whether the state should build a public or public-private project depends on what the schools decide is the best way to proceed,” Hunsinger said. “[The $500,000 for design work] is so the money will be there when the schools and legislature decide on a path.”
While URI’s support for the nursing center is clear, Rhode Island College’s enthusiasm for the project is a bigger question.
When the idea was first being discussed in 2010, RIC teachers expressed concern it would jeopardize the college’s independence.
Although RIC President Nancy Carriuolo had openly backed the project, last year when lawmakers left it out of their budget her assistant posted a Facebook message cheering the plan’s demise. Carriuolo distanced herself from the post.