$98 million Science Building for UT-Pan American part of legislative funding request to be sought from Legislature
A proposed $98 million Science Building for the University of Texas-Pan American on Wednesday, January 23, was authorized by the UT System Board of Regents to be part of a $1.1 billion financing package that will be presented to the Texas Legislature in the coming weeks, Rep. Terry Canales, Edinburg, has announced.
“According to the UT System, the plans call for building a 162,600 gross-square-foot complex that would support biology, math, pre-med and environmental studies, which would help better prepare our students for cutting-edge professions, including medical school,” said Canales. “The action by the UT System Board of Regents was the first step needed to rally legislative support, and I will work very closely with the Valley legislative delegation and the UT System leadership to help secure the needed funding.”
Canales showed up prior to the UT System regents meeting in Austin to support Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American, who laid out the key reasons the proposed Science Building are needed for deep South Texas.
The proposed Science Building would be added to the existing Science Building, which is located on the northeast corner of campus.
“This will be a great addition,” Nelsen told the UT System Board of Regents, which met early Wednesday morning at UT’s downtown administrative facility a few blocks south of the Texas Capitol. “We are thrilled by what we will be able to do for students and for the Valley.”
Promoting the best interest of the University of Texas-Pan American is part of the legislative agenda of the Edinburg City Council and its jobs-creation arm, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. The city council and EEDC have included key measures for UTPA as part of Edinburg’s state legislative agenda.
If financing is secured for construction, the new Science Building also would include three large lecture rooms, 30 research labs of various sizes, 19 instructional labs, five specialized labs, two BSL-3 laboratories, six environmental chambers, a vivarium, and associated support spaces, said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
“UT-Pan American has become one of the premier public universities in Texas, changing the Valley and the state for the better through its outstanding leadership, faculty, staff, and especially, its students,” said Hinojosa, himself an alumni. “Throughout its history, this university has played a tremendous role in the socioeconomic development of deep South Texas. Now, through this latest legislative initiative and other pending landmark measures, UT-Pan American is truly standing on the verge of becoming a first-class research university.”
The proposed Science Building for UT-Pan American was part of the projects approved with the stipulation that authorizes Regents Chairman Gene Powell and UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa to prioritize the projects if it becomes necessary.
Tuition Revenue Bonds, or TRBs, are issued under the UT System’s Revenue Financing System (RFS) and are secured by a system-wide pledge of all legally available revenue for debt issued on behalf of UT System institutions. However, the expectation is that the state will reimburse TRB debt service from general revenue. In order for that to happen, the Texas Legislature must approve the TRBs by passing a bill introduced in the Legislature.
“We need this building quite dramatically. Probably the most important reason is pedalogical (the science and art of education),” Nelsen told the regents.
“Right now, our students do not have to take their labs at the same time they take the courses. It is a shame to admit this, but it is true,” the UTPA president continued. “You can take chemistry and not take your chemistry lab until the following year. That’s bad pedagogically. But it is a fact of our campus because we don’t have enough labs, we do not have enough big spaces to be able to do that.”
He said the new facility, for which if funding is secured from the Legislature, would increase the number of students who graduate in the fields of STEM, which stands for the categories of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“We need the jobs in the Valley, we need STEM credentialed-individuals,” Nelsen emphasized. “STEM education is critical for the Valley.”
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, by 2017, STEM education “will grow and create 17 percent more jobs than currently are out there,” Nelsen explained. “Those people who get a STEM credential will earn 26.7 percent more.”
“We are in the middle of master planning right now. It is very interesting. We have the acreage on our campus that you could fit all of UT-Austin on our campus. We are not landlocked,” Nelsen said.
Constructing the massive addition would also help generate more money for the university because more students would be able to enroll.
“We have a responsibility to grow, and every time we grow one percent, we are bringing in about $900 thousand to be able to do it. Having these buildings and having the capacity will allow us to do it,” the UTPA president noted.
The strong interest in STEM degrees is evident in the enrollment figures at the local university, Nelsen illustrated.
“The College of Science and Mathematics has grown 17.8 percent in the last four years. It now has over 2,500 majors. The new Science Building will allow us to service those majors and allow us to pedagogically teach the students correctly and adequately,” he said. “For me, one of the best elements of this new building is that we would have four classrooms of 150 students apiece. Now, some people say its not good to have big classrooms. I have on my campus only 12 classrooms that have more than 100 students (each). You can teach general chemistry to large groups, and then you work them in the labs.”
The new Science Building would add 19 additional labs for a total of 54 labs on campus.
“That would sure make a difference. It is crucial as we transition into a new university that we have the research space available that is not available at this point,” he said. “Believe me, if you want us to reduce time to degree, we need this building so that we can teach those classes together and be successful.”
Nelsen said the UT-Pan American currently has less academic space, in terms of facilities, than other major campuses in the UT System.
“We don’t have the opportunity. If I can just give you a simple comparison, at UT-Pan Am, we have 127 gross-square-feet per student. At UT-San Antonio, it is 159 gross-square-feet per student. At UT-El Paso, its 203 gross-square-feet per student. At UT-Austin, its 455 gross-square feet per student,” Nelsen observed. “We simply don’t have the space to be able to put our students into the classrooms to make it work. We absolutely need this building.”
According to the UT System: Having each UT institution bring TRB requests before the Board of Regents is a new process and signals a very strategic and conservative approach in asking for the Legislature’s assistance in paying for much-needed capital projects on campuses.
Each institution was allowed to bring one project for consideration to the Board of Regents. An exception was made for The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which is asking for $8 million for a laboratory for research on aging for the San Antonio campus and $6 million for the Diabetes Institute of South Texas, located at the Laredo Regional Campus.
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