|AUSTIN, November 13 - The UT System Board of Regents looks set to approve funding for a $54 million medical academic building in Edinburg in anticipation of a new medical school being built in the city.
At its November monthly meeting in Austin on Thursday, regents are also slated to give the go ahead for undergraduate academic buildings in both Hidalgo and Cameron counties valued at $142 million.
The $142 million includes $70 million for a new science building in Edinburg and $54 million for a new academic building in Brownsville. Buildings valued at $18 million will also be purchased from Texas Southmost College in Brownsville for the planned new regional university.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, co-author of the legislation to create a new university and medical school in South Texas, welcomed the expenditures by the UT System.
“For the first time, the new university will be eligible to receive PUF monies and I am pleased that the UT System Board of Regents will consider approval of funding for a $54 million medical academic building in anticipation of the new medical school and $142 million for undergraduate academic buildings in both Hidalgo and Cameron Counties,” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, told the Guardian.
“Confirming the allocation of these funds will advance the goal of expanding access to educational opportunities and medical education which will increase access to care for our Valley families and decrease our physician shortage.”
PUF stands for Permanent University Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville cannot access. The new university coming to the Rio Grande Valley in 2015 can access the fund.
“If approved by the Board of Regents Thursday, this funding will be significant for two reasons. One, it marks the first time PUF money will go to South Texas for new construction, and two, it’s the first time funding has been appropriated, not for UT Brownsville or UT Pan American, but for the new university, which will serve the entire Rio Grande Valley,” said Pedro Reyes, UT System executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
The new $54 million medical academic building for Edinburg will be administered by U. T. Health Science Center - San Antonio until a standalone medical school in the Valley is accredited. In a background information briefing prepared by UT System staff for the Board of Regents it is stated that this project will “advance the goal to expand medical education” that UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa outlined in his Framework for Advancing Excellence document.
“The 88,000 gross square feet of space will be devoted to teaching facilities that promote faculty and student interaction at the earliest stages of medical school,” the briefing document states, referring to the planned medical academic building. “There will be lecture halls that can be converted to smaller breakout rooms for multi-professional education and simulated patient cases. There will be multiple small classrooms and seminar rooms for small group problem solving and ‘flipped classrooms.’ The building will include an auditorium, digital library, clinical skills center for sophisticated testing of students’ knowledge, skills, and values, preclinical M.D. labs, and an anatomy teaching facility.”
The briefing document goes on to state:
“Consistent with accrediting body requirements, there will be a student lounge and study space. The building will make extensive use of online and distance learning as part of a region-wide Medical School interacting with and complementing facilities at Harlingen and Brownsville as well as supporting continuing professional education in the region.
“The new medical academic building is slated to be built in time to matriculate the first medical school class in the Summer/Fall 2016. The building will house core administrative facilities for the Dean’s Office and approximately 30 faculty members.
“It will be constructed on an area of the UT-Pan American campus that is adjacent to the medical research building previously constructed as part of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC). Its location is consistent with the campus plan for creation of a medical/health professions education and research complex. The building will become part of the new university in South Texas when that University is established.”
The undergraduate academic buildings in both Hidalgo and Cameron counties valued at $142 million come under the auspices of Project South Texas, which is the name given by the UT System for the project to create a new university through the merger of UTPA and UT-Brownsville.
Of the proposed PUF allocation for the U. T. South Texas Project, $70 million will be used for a new science building in Hidalgo County, to be built on the existing U. T. Pan American campus, for the benefit of the new university in South Texas, the briefing document states.
“The facility will serve students throughout the region. This allocation will fund a portion of the costs to construct approximately 120,000 additional net assignable square feet to support various STEM disciplines, including biology, physics, chemistry, math, pre-med, and environmental studies. The facility will provide much needed instructional and research lab and classroom space to increase instruction efficiency and to enhance the educational opportunities for all students of the new U. T. System institution.
“The building will be constructed with new learning technologies enabling students to benefit through the use of interactive technology regardless of their physical location. The project will be developed collaboratively with faculty from both U. T. Pan American and U. T. Brownsville and will focus on technology linking the campuses so that instruction may be delivered simultaneously to students at either campus.”
The briefing document states that a total of $72 million in PUF allocations for the Cameron County campus of the new university in South Texas will be utilized for capital improvements and for costs to the U. T. System associated with the acquisition of facilities from Texas Southmost College resulting from the recent separation.
“Of the PUF allocations for the Cameron County campus, $54 million will be used to fund an academic building comprising approximately 140,000 gross square feet (GSF). The development of the Cameron County campus is greatly needed to accommodate the anticipated number of students, which will include existing students of UT Brownsville, who by statute are entitled to admission to the new university. As a result of the UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College separation, the UT Brownsville campus has space to accommodate only 3,400 students, and with its current enrollment over 8,600, the campus has leased space to manage the deficit. Construction of this new academic building will begin to alleviate the need for leased classroom space,” the briefing document states.
The document states that as with the allocation of funding for the new science building to be built on the existing UT Pan American campus, this academic facility for the new university will also be constructed to adapt to the new learning realities and serving students at two campuses.
The rest of the briefing document centers on the $18 million that will be used to pay for a portion of the costs to the UT System associated with the acquisition of facilities in the separation between UT Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. It states that the Office of Academic Affairs will work collaboratively with the Office of Facilities Planning and Construction before design and development recommendations are brought forth to the Board for approval.
“Once a Campus Master Plan has been created for the new university in South Texas, one of the initial tasks of the successful firm will be the development of a coordinated and integrated plan for use of technology to bridge learning opportunities for students whether they are at the Hidalgo County or Cameron County campuses of the new university,” the document states.
“Furthermore, this academic facility will be constructed to adapt to the new learning realities and the fact that these facilities will serve two campuses. These facilities will be built with new learning technologies so that students can take courses from the faculties of both campuses through the use of interactive technology. For example, the instruction in physics may come from the Cameron County campus to all students. On the other hand, instruction in chemistry may come from the Hidalgo County campus to all students.
“Moreover, the Offices of Academic Affairs and Facilities Planning and Construction will be very much involved in these projects before the design and development for both buildings are brought forth to the Board for approval. Once a Campus Master Plan for the development of the University of Texas in South Texas is created, one of the initial tasks of the successful firm will be the development of a coordinated and integrated plan to use technology for these two new proposed facilities at the Hidalgo County and Cameron County campuses of the new university in South Texas.”
Editor's Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from Edinburg.