MCALLEN, RGV – The Texas A&M University System board of regents has approved conceptual plans for a multipurpose academic building in McAllen, and appropriated $36 million for construction and related costs.

In a news release, Texas A&M said the elements of a ground lease and project scope for the first building for the proposed Texas A&M University Higher Education Center in McAllen were approved by the board of regents, pending approval of the center by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Texas A&M President Michael K. Young
Texas A&M President Michael K. Young

When fully complete, the 60,000 square-foot facility will include classrooms, laboratories, faculty and administrative support offices, as well as student services and gathering spaces befitting the academic degree programs and courses to be delivered.

Dr. Karan Watson, Provost and Executive Vice President, and Dr. Jim Nelson, University Project Coordinator, have led a multi-college taskforce in a community and industry assessment over recent months in preparation of Texas A&M’s formal request to establish the higher education center and approval to deliver courses leading to Texas A&M University degrees at the site.

Texas A&M President Michael K. Young said the goal is to provide an opportunity for young men and women in South Texas to attend Texas A&M, a top-tier university, while staying close to home. The aim is to have at least four to six degree programs initially, with enrollments beginning in Fall 2017.

“It’s gratifying to see this project move forward. We have submitted our proposal to the Coordinating Board and are hopeful their review during the next few months will be positive,” Young said. “Our proposal, developed in concert with industry and community leaders in the Rio Grande Valley, provides greater opportunities for students to pursue higher education and prepare for careers in high-need fields that will benefit their future and the economic wellbeing of the region.”

The new A&M McAllen campus will be constructed on a 100-acre site in the Tres Lagos development on the far north side of McAllen. The City of McAllen, in conjunction with Hidalgo County, has committed to issuing up to $10 million in bonds to help with utility and infrastructure connections for a 100-acre tract on the Tres Lagos property.

PUF funds


In May, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton confirmed that A&M can use permanent university fund bonds to construct the McAllen facility. Texas A&M System regents previously appropriated $4 million for construction planning and now have budgeted $40 million for the total project construction, the news release states. Plans call for the first building to include over 61,000 square feet of floor space for classrooms and teaching laboratories along with office space for faculty and staff, teaching assistants, security and operations personnel.

“This McAllen project has been a great example of the university and the community working together to bring educational opportunity to South Texas,” said Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. “Community support has been critical to the process, and I am especially thankful for the far-sighted leadership of local and state officials.”

In its news release, Texas A&M System says construction of the McAllen facility is tentatively scheduled to begin in December, pending receiving all necessary approvals. The goal is for the Higher Education Center to be completed in time for students to begin studying there in fall 2018.

“Initially, degree programs from the College of Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will be offered. These degrees were identified from discussions with local industry as being high-need fields for the region,” the news release states.

“The Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Education, Science, and Liberal Arts are providing some of the coursework necessary for the degrees and are considering future program offerings. The courses will be taught by Texas A&M faculty, and graduates will receive the iconic Aggie ring and fully accredited degrees from Texas A&M University.”

Key players


State Sen. Juan Hinojosa played a big role in getting A&M to build the new facility in McAllen. “This will help expand educational opportunities to everyone in the Valley and we look forward to working with A&M to continue improving access to higher education,” Hinojosa said.

Another key player in the negotiations was McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

“The City of McAllen and the Texas Rio Grande Valley have traditionally lagged behind the State of Texas and the US on economic metrics including unemployment and low income numbers. We have made strides in addressing those issues – unemployment rate is down and per capita income up – by working with our local partners in education,” Darling said. “But there is much more work to do in providing educational opportunities for our students. That is why being able to provide our students with a Texas A&M education in our own backyard is a dream come true. It is not only for our kids today but for generations to come.”

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia has said the A&M facility in McAllen is a potential “game changer” for the Valley.

“Hidalgo County is proud to partner with City of McAllen and Texas A&M University. Education is the great equalizer,” Garcia said. “On behalf of Hidalgo County, I would like to thank Chancellor John Sharp and the Texas A&M Board of Regents for their confidence and investment in South Texas.”

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian last December, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor Phillip Ray said the facility’s current timetable calls for a 2017 opening with about 100 students, and 800 more five years after that.

“Our agricultural, life sciences, engineering, veterinary medicine and biomedical scientists are all partners with this,” Ray said. “So, the vision is for them to have their type of faculty and level of education and programs down here in this teaching center, and hopefully this will become a branch campus of Texas A&M. There is just tremendous potential here.”

For more information on the project, including an extensive Q&A document, go to: http://valleyhec.tamu.edu.