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RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – South Texas College broke ground Dec. 15 for the expansion of its Starr County Campus.

The expansion costs approximately $24 million and will feature a thermal storage plant, an expanded Student Services Activities building and an 18,000-square-foot library. The current library on the Starr County campus will be renovated into a cultural arts center.

The biggest expansion of the campus is the construction of a 55,000-square-foot Health Professions Science Center featuring biology, chemistry and computer labs as well as a simulation and skills lab for those studying health professions.

“We don’t really have science labs at the [Starr County] campus, but we’ll be able to offer all the sciences–chemistry, physics, engineering and we’ll be able to offer the beginnings of the nursing programs and with time–other allied health programs will have an opportunity to get started here in Starr County,” STC President Shirley Reed told the Rio Grande Guardian. “Nursing is the highest demand occupation in this county, not just Starr, but all of the Valley. It’s also one of the best paying jobs, so why not train our local students to get into the health care professions.”

The expansion is scheduled for completion late 2017. County voters passed the $159 million bond election in 2013 that will be funding the project. STC’s expansion on the Starr County campus and Pecan campus will help accommodate the expected 42,000 student enrollment come 2020.

Rose Benavidez, STC trustee, said all the educational opportunities in the community greatly contributes to the dramatic drop in unemployment rate as well as how high education attainment has gotten.

“It allows us to show a prepared and educated workforce, but more importantly it’s a signal of hope,” Benavidez told the Rio Grande Guardian. “It’s a signal of change and it’s a signal of letting people know that opportunities are there and it’s our job to ensure that the access is there for everyone. But more importantly, it’s going to continue to transform this community and turn it into the place we all want to live in–want our kids to live in and want future generations to be a part of.”