University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa on Thursday will recommend that UT regents approve $265.5 million from the state’s Permanent University Fund for projects on campuses across the state.
If approved, almost three-quarters of that amount — $196 million — would be set to make its way to South Texas for the unnamed university created by the combination of the UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American, according to a UT System Board of Regents meeting agenda.
Of those funds, $142 million would go to UTB and UTPA, whose assets will make up the new school. The remaining $54 million is proposed for a medical school building on the UTPA campus that would be adjacent to the existing medical research building constructed as part of the Regional Academic Health Center.
In Brownsville, $72 million would go toward the UTB campus for capital improvements and to fund costs to the System caused by UTB’s separation from Texas Southmost College.
From that $72 million, $54 million would fund construction of an approximately 140,000-square-foot academic building, according to the meeting agenda. In previous interviews with The Brownsville Herald, UTB President Juliet Garcia said she has requested $98 million for buildings on campus.
“As a result of the U.T. Brownsville/Texas Southmost College separation, the U.T. Brownsville campus has space to accommodate only 3,400 students, and with its current enrollment over 8,600, the campus has leased space to manage the deficit,” the agenda states. “Construction of this new academic building will begin to alleviate the need for leased classroom space.”
The remaining $18 million for UTB will pay a portion of the cost for buildings acquired from TSC, a transaction that was approved by UT regents in July.
The rest of the amount for South Texas will be used in Edinburg to construct a new science building at the UTPA campus. The science building is something that UTPA President Robert Nelsen has said the campus needs. In January, Nelsen sought approval from regents to request tuition revenue bonds from the Texas Legislature for the project. The bonds failed to gain approval from lawmakers.
The plan for the medical school building is to complete construction by summer or fall of 2016, when the medical school is expected to enroll its first class.
The details listed in the agenda paint a picture of an academic campus with an emphasis in technology to bridge the geographic divide between campuses in Brownsville, Edinburg and in Harlingen.
“The academic facility will be constructed to adapt to the new learning realities and that fact that these facilities will serve two campuses,” the agenda states. “These facilities will be built with new learning technologies so that students can take courses from the faculties of both campuses through the use of interactive technology.”
In a statement, UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes said if the funding is approved, the decision would be significant for two reasons.
“One, it marks the first time PUF money will go to South Texas for new construction, and two, it’s the first time funding has been appropriated, not for UT Brownsville or UT Pan American, but for the new university, which will serve the entire Rio Grande Valley,” Reyes said.