Surrounded by medical students and excited University of Connecticut officials, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed a $362 million plan to expand and renovate John Dempsey Hospital, the university’s teaching hospital in Farmington.

The bill, which Rell signed Friday, was touted as one of the most significant pieces of legislation for health care in the state of Connecticut.

“I believe this is going to transform delivery of health care in Connecticut,” Rell said during the signing ceremony.

The center piece of the law is the renovation of the aging John Dempsey Hospital, but it also provides for a partnership with five area hospitals, increased classroom and lab space for both medical and dental students, and a state-of-the-art cancer center.

The legislation authorizes the use of $25 million in UConn 21st Century funding and $237 million in state bonds in addition to $100 million in federal funding or private donations for the completion of the project.

“Money’s tight. There‘s no getting around it” Rell said. “But we saw that this vision had to come to fruition even in these difficult economic times.”

She talked about how the legislature had to go back and cancel some bond authorizations to make room for the new borrowing.

To make things a little more complicated, Rell and the legislature made the project contingent upon the state getting $100 million from a federal grant offered in the national health care bill or through private donations.

“I have every confidence that we’re going to reach the $100 million mark,” Rell told the crowd gathered for the ceremony. “We have to do it together.”

The state has until 2015 to receive the $100 million and it plans to compete with 13 other states with public hospitals through a provision added to the national health care bill by U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd.

Rell said that for the $362 million investment, the state is going to get an enhanced primary care system with more doctors and a nationally recognized cancer center and with it more research dollars.

The signing ceremony took place only a few hours after Fitch Ratings announced that it had lowered Connecticut’s bond rating by one level to AA.

“The downgrade reflects the state’s reduced financial flexibility, illustrated by its reliance on sizable debt issuances during the current biennium to close operating gaps in the context of already high liabilities,” Fitch said.

The bond rating is good and bad news, according to Rell. She said they lowered the state one level, but they also moved it from a negative to a stable rating. She said moving it to a stable rating makes it more attractive to investors.

Rell also insisted that she included a fail-safe provision in the state budget that requires any surplus to be dedicated to reducing the state’s debt.