Western Kentucky University is now seeking proposals to build and design an on-campus sports medicine complex, following recommendations by state lawmakers that the process be open to competition.
A request for proposals released by WKU on Monday calls for a medical provider to build and equip the complex, which could be 140,000 square feet or larger. That facility will be on 2.57 acres of land between Nick Denes Field and Houchens-Smith Stadium, according to the RFP.
The move to seek proposals follows a recent protest against a deal between WKU and The Medical Center to build the $22 million complex. Under the agreement, WKU would have leased the land for the complex to The Medical Center for 99 years at $1 per year. WKU had planned to pay all operating expenses for space it used in the building, while The Medical Center would have paid maintenance and operation for its own space.
The deal included other benefits for The Medical Center, such as enticing WKU employees to use the provider for their health care needs. WKU's Board of Regents approved the deal Aug. 19 in a 6-4 vote. Regent Phillip Bale, a physician, abstained from voting because of an affiliation with Graves-Gilbert Clinic.
Following the approval, a protest was filed on behalf of Western Kentucky Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates and cited violations of procurement laws and violations. WKONA is affiliated with Graves-Gilbert Clinic.
President Gary Ransdell and university attorney Deborah Wilkins testified in support of the project when it was up for review by the state's Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee on Sept. 20. Several lawmakers criticized the process of securing the deal as too secretive and out of line with procurement code, according to an audio recording of the hearing.
Among the project's critics was Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who asked why university officials didn't follow the procurement code from the beginning.
Ransdell said the project originally started off as a gift discussion, meaning that officials wouldn't need to seek bids.
"When we go to solicit gifts, whether they be from corporations or private individuals, that's not a bid process," Ransdell said. "I'm negotiating dozens of gifts right now with private corporations and individuals."
Wayne disagreed with that argument and said there are legal guidelines that should have been followed. He cited an email Ransdell sent to the Board of Regents calling for "absolute confidentiality" in the negotiation process.
The email reads: "I must remind each Board member, and those WKU VPs who are working on this, that absolute CONFIDENTIALITY is critical. We cannot engage any party in any discussion of this until the Med Center Board acts; and you, the WKU Board of a (sic) Regents, makes a decision. Regardless of ones (sic) views, we cannot place either Board in a position of public discussion until they conduct their business and you conduct your business."
Wayne said the issues of a public university should be more transparent.
"I find this appalling," Wayne said. "I don't understand the full context for this, but for the university president to write this about a project that he probably knew was controversial in that community, I find that appalling."
Ransdell said university officials were dealing with a private board that had a right to discuss the matter privately to see if it was feasible and to prevent officials from lobbying the Med Center Health board. Ultimately, the board voted to table a decision on the project until its next meeting next month.
Under the RFP's terms, bidders are responsible for all costs in building and equipping the sports medicine complex. It calls for space to house WKU's Doctor of Physical Therapy program, a sports medicine/orthopedic clinic, a baseball clubhouse, office and locker rooms and a rehabilitation/training indoor practice facility for the Department of Athletics and WKU students.
Those interested should also describe their intent to lease space and operate a primary care clinic in an on-campus facility for that purpose, according to the RFP. The university is also seeking a partner for on-campus orthopedic services for student-athletes and to work with physical therapy faculty and students.
"The university is willing to consider a long term exclusive contract with the medical services provider that could include various health related services in exchange for shared use of the facility constructed by the bidder," the RFP reads.
Proposals for the project are due by Nov. 1.
— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.