State senators on Wednesday authorized $263 million in bonding needed to overhaul the University of Connecticut Health Center and turn the Farmington facility into a bioscience research hub.

Proponents of the so-called Bioscience Connecticut initiative, an $864 million project being pushed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said the investment is needed to help create an estimated 16,400 permanent jobs, build upon the state’s existing bioscience and pharmaceutical industries and help make the state a national leader in the field.

But Republicans, the minority party in the General Assembly, said the project was being rushed without proper vetting. They also questioned the large expense and whether the state can afford to make such a huge investment when it faces budget deficits and billions of dollars in bonded debt.

“I think we have to be careful with moving just for the sake of motion,” said Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington. “I don’t know how we can think this investment of money makes sense under the circumstances.”

Malloy is the latest governor to embrace a plan to overhaul the UConn Health Center, first built in 1961. The site includes the University of Connecticut medical and dental schools, the John Dempsey Hospital and various outpatient services. The center has required millions of dollars in state aid over the years to keep it financially afloat.

State lawmakers last year authorized $340 million as part of former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s plan to overhaul the health center complex. That money will now help fund Malloy’s vision of the health center overhaul, in addition to $203 million in private financing, $69 million raised by the UConn health center and $33 million from the UConn Health Network.

Malloy’s proposal calls for a major renovation of the Dempsey hospital and adding a patient care tower and more parking. It also greatly expands bioscience research and training facilities, increases student enrollment in the medical and dental schools and creates a new student loan forgiveness program for graduates who set up practice in Connecticut.

Malloy, in a written statement following Wednesday’s 24-11 vote, called the proposal “a win-win investment.”

“It will provide 4,000 jobs annually over the next six years, it will create long-term economic growth with 16,400 jobs by 2037 and it will help stabilize the health center’s own finances,” he said.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further action.


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