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House gives final approval for $30.6 million towards construction of Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building

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Featured, front row: As Valley lawmakers celebrate Gov. Greg Abbott’s promise to help deep South Texas, the governor gives an appreciative handshake to Ana María García, Regional Director for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during the governor’s appearance at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Thursday, January 22, 2015. Back row, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Sen. Sylvia García, D-Houston. Photograph By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Featured, front row: As Valley lawmakers celebrate Gov. Greg Abbott’s promise to help deep South Texas, the governor gives an appreciative handshake to Ana María García, Regional Director for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during the governor’s appearance at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Thursday, January 22, 2015. Back row, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Sen. Sylvia García, D-Houston. Photograph By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

By David Diaz

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Texas Border Business

More than $30 million would be available to help build a proposed Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building at the Edinburg campus – currently The University of Texas Pan American – of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation have announced. UT-Pan American, along with The University of Texas at Brownsville and the Regional Academic Health Centers in Edinburg and Harlingen, are in the process of utilizing their assets and resources to create a new university, The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, which will include a full-fledged School of Medicine with campuses in Edinburg and Harlingen.

The EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, along with the mayor and city council, have made the construction of the new engineering complex one of their legislative priorities at the State Capitol. The proposed financing is included in a statewide measure, House Bill 100, of which Canales is a co-author, which received final approval in the House of Representatives on Thursday, April 9.

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An identical measure is being considered in the Senate. House Bill 100, whose primary author is Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., a Republican from Richmond – and Chair of the House Committee on Higher Education – authorizes the issuance of $3.1 billion in tuition revenue bonds throughout the state for institutions of higher education – including in the UT and Texas A&M systems – to finance construction and renovation of infrastructure and facilities “The UT System has plans for a $50 million, state-of-the-art academic complex that would help prepare more engineering students while also addressing space requirements for other academic disciplines as needed,” Canales said.

“What the House has approved – $30.6 million – goes a long way toward helping the UT System reach this very important goal.” Canales noted this latest project is in addition to several major facilities already underway at the Edinburg campus. “In 2013, the UT System authorized funding for the construction of a $70 million Science Building Annex at UT Pan American and $54 million for a UT medical school academic building next to the Edinburg campus,” Canales said.

“This is in addition to the $42.6 million, 1,000-seat Academic and Performing Arts Center at UTPA, also already funded, which is well on its way to being completed.” All higher education institutions seeking revenue through House Bill 100 had to settle for less than they had originally requested, but still are on the way to receiving major facility upgrades and new construction at their respective campuses, the House District 40 lawmaker explained.

Canales said the UT System could provide the balance to reach the $50 million target for the new complex through numerous ways, including by using some of its own vast financial resources, through cost-savings at UTRGV, private contributions, or other options.

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“We have come up with most of the bonding authority requested by the UT System, and I am they will do what it takes to meet the needs of our best and brightest students,” Canales said.

The $30.6 million for the new facility in Edinburg authorized by HB 100 would be raised in part through the use of tuition revenue bonds, which are funds generated from tuition charges levied against students or universities.

As more students are enrolled, more money from tuition is generated that is used to help repay the debt from tuition revenue bonds. The majority of the money for the new construction, however, comes from funds provided by the Texas Legislature, not from the students.

Canales gave credit to UT-RGV leaders, including President Guy Bailey and UT-Pan American Ad Interim President Havidán Rodríguez, as well as to the Edinburg mayor, Edinburg City Council, and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, for helping rally legislative and political support for what would be the latest and one of the largest new facilities on the Edinburg campus.

“Mayor (Richard) García, along with President Bailey and President Rodríguez, continue to play vital roles in helping the Valley state legislative delegation successfully fight for our fair share of state and UT System resources,” said Canales. “Once final legislative approval is secured, and we get the governor behind it, as I expect he will support this legislation, there will be another monument of higher education rising into the Valley skyline.”

Mayor García also serves as President of the Board of Directors for the EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. Agustín “Gus” García (no relation to the mayor), serves as EEDC Executive Director. “The decision of the House of Representatives to support UT Rio Grande Valley through $30.6 million in legislative funding for UTRGV’s Engineering and Academic Studies Building will enhance the learning experience for our students and greatly impact student success.

We are thankful to Representative Canales for his commitment to UTRGV and the entire Valley delegation for their support on this endeavor and all of our major priorities for this legislative session,” said Bailey, the founding president of what will become one of the largest higher education systems in the state. Once the funding plan clears the Legislature, facility programming could begin in October 2015, with design development approval scheduled for August 2016, leading to occupancy by August 2018.

“The University of Texas Pan American continues to experience an increase in its student population, and with nearly 30,000 students enrolling and transitioning to UT Rio Grande Valley, it is imperative that we address our critical need for space to support this enrollment growth,” said Rodríguez, who has the honor of being the final president of UT Pan American. Rodríguez, who also serves on the Board of Directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, will remain with UTRGV as its founding Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“Enrollment in UTPA’s engineering programs has already exceeded 2,200; however, our current engineering building was only designed to accommodate about 1,400 students.

UTRGV is the perfect steward of these state funds, which are going to be utilized in the best interest of our students and to ensure their success,” said Rodríguez. “The support of our legislators speaks volumes about our strong and ongoing partnerships and their interest in the success of our students in South Texas.”

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