Major construction projects that have stalled for years at Texas public universities may soon be on the move after the state House gave early approval Thursday to a bond package loaded with more than $3 billion in projects.
Under a plan approved on a 131-13 vote, more than $550 million would flow to higher education facilities in North Texas, helping fund new buildings at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, the University of Texas at Arlington and Tarleton State University’s new local campus.
Although lawmakers have been unable to pass similar measures to pump funding into college facilities since 2006, many believe that 2015 is the year for a breakthrough.
“This one will pass,” predicted Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who indicated that all top state leaders are on board. “Each campus gets money.
“It’s incredibly important to keep up with technology and provide a modern learning atmosphere for our college students,” he said. “This isn’t enough, but it’s a start.”
The Senate is expected to weigh in soon on its version of the bill, about $25 million less than the House measure.
Groups such as Texans for Fiscal Responsibility have opposed this effort, saying lawmakers should walk away from the proposal and fund the new buildings outright.
The bill allows bonds to be sold for construction. The Legislature generally uses general revenue to pay off the bonds.
Tarrant County’s needs
The House proposal would send more than $550 million to North Texas campuses.
It calls for giving $80 million to the health science center, which has drawn national attention for its Alzheimer’s research, to help build a four-story interdisciplinary research building at the northeast corner of Camp Bowie Boulevard and Clifton Street.
The total cost of the building — which would include 150,000 square feet of research labs, teaching labs, classroom space, study rooms, multimedia learning areas, and faculty and administrative offices — is estimated at $121 million, said Jeff Carlton, director of media relations at the health science center.
“The design of the building will reflect our focus on interprofessional training,” he said. “We’re looking for every opportunity for our future doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, physician assistants, public health experts and researchers to learn and train together in the same classrooms and labs.”
The bill would allocate $70 million for UT Arlington to build a science and education innovation and research building. UTA officials declined to comment on the legislation.
But Rep. Chris Turner, whose district includes part of Arlington, said the tuition revenue bonds will help UTA “as it continues to grow and establishes itself as a leading urban research university.”
“Building a first-class science and education innovation and research building is a critical investment for the university — an investment which will help students succeed and the university attract more research dollars,” said Turner, D-Grand Prairie.
“As a member of the Higher Education Committee, I am proud to support UTA and look forward to continuing to advocate for its students, faculty and staff in Austin.”
The measure would also earmark $39.6 million for the first step in establishing a new campus in Fort Worth by funding a southwest Metroplex building for Tarleton State University in Tarrant County.
Tarleton State announced last year that it plans to build a campus on land donated by the Walton Group along the Chisholm Trail Parkway in south Tarrant County.
Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, said this funding is key.
“Having Tarleton State build a campus in southwest Fort Worth will be a game-changer,” said Goldman, whose district includes the future campus. “Tarleton will offer affordable higher education opportunities and create an economic stimulus for our community.”
Other local projects
Funding requested for other North Texas college projects includes $80 million to build and renovate a vivarium and academic and laboratory facilities at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and $70 million for an engineering building at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Other Metroplex earmarks include:
▪ $56 million to renovate law buildings in the University of North Texas System.
▪ $70 million to build a college of visual arts and design facilities at the UNT campus in Denton.
▪ $63 million to build a student learning and success center at the UNT campus in Dallas.
▪ Nearly $38 million for a laboratory building at Texas Woman’s University in Dallas.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610