UT regents endorse campuses’ $1.2 billion in construction bond requests


Highlights

UT-Austin has asked lawmakers for $100 million in bonds to help pay for renovation of a laboratory building.

Lawmakers will have the final say about approval of funding sought by universities across the state.

A wish list of 13 construction projects at University of Texas System campuses, including the Austin flagship, won unanimous endorsement from the Board of Regents at a specially called telephone meeting Thursday. But members of the Legislature will have the final say when they converge on Austin in January to begin negotiating a state budget for the next two years.

UT System campuses are seeking $1.2 billion in bond money from lawmakers; the balance of the $1.6 billion cost of the projects would come from donations, reserves and other sources. Numerous schools in other university systems also are seeking bonds from the Legislature.

There is no guarantee that lawmakers will approve all or even part of the requested funding. Barry McBee, special assistant to the UT System chancellor, said it is nevertheless important “to make sure the Legislature knows we have capital needs.”

UT-Austin is seeking $100 million in bonds to help fund a $150 million renovation of the J.T. Patterson Labs Building. The building is home to the integrative biology department, which is one of the university’s highest-ranked departments.

UT-Austin’s legislative appropriations request states that the Patterson building “suffers” from outdated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, walls and roofing of questionable integrity, and safety and security concerns. Moreover, the request says, the building’s current layout provides little opportunity for student and faculty collaboration.

Other requests for bond money on the UT System’s legislative wish list include $126 million to construct a College of Business building at UT-San Antonio’s downtown campus, $113 million for a teaching and learning complex at UT-El Paso and $200 million for a research building to be shared by the UT Health Science Center at Houston and the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Meanwhile, Texas Tech University has asked for $118 million in bonds to be put toward a $131 million science and engineering complex in Lubbock.

Texas State University has requested $125 million for a classroom building at its San Marcos campus to house the math and computer science departments, as well as $75 million for a building at its Round Rock campus to complete the relocation of the College of Health Professions to that site.

And Texas A&M University is seeking $75 million in bonds to help pay for an $85 million instructional laboratory building, particularly for chemistry, but also for biological sciences, design studios for architecture and innovative maker spaces for collaborative projects.

The Legislature last approved a major round of higher education capital projects in 2015, when it authorized $3.1 billion in bonds for construction and renovation. That was the first significant round of such funding since 2006. Although tuition revenue is technically pledged to pay off the bonds, in practice the Legislature has covered the debt payments with general revenue.

In other action Thursday, UT System regents allocated $70 million in endowment proceeds to UT-San Antonio to build a School of Data Science and a National Security Collaboration Center at its downtown campus. University President Taylor Eighmy expressed high hopes for the projects: “By creating an ecosystem here that brings together the business strengths of our community and the research expertise of UTSA, we will establish San Antonio as the Silicon Valley-equivalent for data science, information management and cybersecurity.”



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