Politics & Government

Texas Legislature sends $3 billion college bond package to governor

University of North Texas Health Science Center NOTE: This panorama is stitched together from six photos.
University of North Texas Health Science Center NOTE: This panorama is stitched together from six photos. STAR-TELEGRAM

After years of trying, Texas lawmakers finally passed a $3 billion bond package to help colleges statewide with desperately needed construction projects.

The package, which includes more than $550 million for higher education facilities in North Texas, now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott for consideration.

“We haven’t passed any bond packages in so long,” said state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who said he has been told the governor will sign off on the proposal. “It’s something that’s really needed.

“It’s going to be great.”

Similar proposals have wound their way through the Legislature every session for most of the last decade, only to die in the waning days and leave Texas’ public universities without money needed to add buildings and keep up with the continually growing number of students.

If approved by Abbott, this funding — which includes money for 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 — will be the first state bond package for Texas universities since 2006.

The proposal again came down to the last few days of the session, but this year was different: Lawmakers hammered out differences in the House and Senate versions, even over the objections of some, such as Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, who were opposed to adding debt and believed the state should simply fund new buildings outright.

The bill lets bonds be sold for construction. The Legislature usually uses general revenue to pay off the bonds.

Local needs

The proposal dedicates more than $550 million to North Texas campuses.

That includes $80 million for the health science center 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 — with 150,000 square feet of research and teaching labs, classrooms, study rooms, multimedia learning areas, and faculty and administrative offices — is estimated at $121 million, health science center officials have said.

The measure also allocates $70 million for UT Arlington to help construct a science and education innovation and research building.

UTA asked for funding to help with a 210,000-square-foot building for “collaborative science and engineering research programs with specific focus on Bioengineering, Architectural Engineering, Engineering Management, Biology, Chemistry, Resource Engineering, and Health Science,” according to an online legislative request.

The total cost of the building is estimated at $190 million, according to the document.

“This is a very positive development for UTA,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, whose district includes the college. “UTA is growing rapidly, and it is poised to become a leading research university.

“It’s critical the Legislature provide resources for universities to grow and serve their students in the best way possible,” he said. “This is long overdue.”

The bill also earmarks $39.6 million to help establish a new campus in Fort Worth — a southwest Metroplex building for Tarleton State University.

Tarleton officials said last year that they plan to build a campus along the new Chisholm Trail Parkway in south Tarrant County on land donated by the Walton Group, a Canada-based developer.

“Once the governor signs the bill, it will be the last major step Tarleton State needs to bring an outstanding public university campus to Fort Worth, and the economic benefit to our city and region will be astonishing,” said state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, whose district includes the future Tarleton campus.

The campus is geared to help serve the thousands of Tarleton students who already come from Tarrant County. The college’s main campus is in Stephenville.

Other area projects

The compromise also 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 in the Senate bill:

▪  $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’s Denton campus.

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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