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Community leaders push to sever ties with UH System

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Aug. 21, 2010 at 3:21 a.m.


"My personal opinion is that the University of Houston has demonstrated for the last several years that they really don't care about Victoria," said Claud Jacobs

REPORT SIGNERSThe following community leaders signed the report from the Crossroads Commission on Education subcommittee on infrastructure:

Dennis Patillo, president of Stewart Title of the Coastal Bend

Donald Day, Texas Glass and Tinting

Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp

Randy Vivian, president Victoria Area Chamber of Commerce

Claud Jacobs, partner Lodestone Financial Services

Clay Cain, Victoria school district attorney

Jeff Bauknight, president of Crossroads Mechanical Inc.

Tom Schmidt, president of Urban Engineering

Gary Burns, county commissioner

Will Armstrong, mayor

UHV master PLAN CRITICISMThe commission subcommittee believes the plan is unfeasible because of limited space for growth, drainage and infrastructure problems.

The proposed buildings sit in low-lying areas prone to flooding. The location would require more space to build storm water detention and could not fit the additional buildings.

The proposed parking garage is planned to sit atop current UHV soccer fields. It would hold about 500 cars and estimated to cost about $11,000 per parking space, according to the commission report. With student enrollment projected to be 2,000 face-to-face students by 2020 the subcommittee believes the garage would be "woefully inadequate."

The plan shows two buildings proposed to be VC/UHV "joint ventures" on VC property. Before drafting the plan, the UH System never contacted the college for approval of a joint venture.

The plan also includes adding a four-story 160,000-square-foot academic building and a 45,000-square-foot economic development building on land north of the UHV center building.

Some community leaders want the University of Houston-Victoria to sever ties with the University of Houston System and join another that shares their expansion goals.

The recommendation is part of a three-page report created by a subcommittee of the Crossroads Commission on Education and signed by 10 community leaders last week.

The report was sent Friday to Carroll Ray, chairwoman of the University of Houston System Board of Regents, along with a letter from Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong.

"I am asking you to forget about the land and building issue and help us find another university to partner who will share our vision for higher education here in Victoria," Armstrong wrote.

The commission wrote the report after meeting with UH System staff on Aug. 13 when both groups staunchly disagreed on the best way to expand the campus.

The commission recommended a new campus be built on 100 acres near Loop 463 where there will be room to handle student growth for the next few decades.

The UH System says it supports building on the current 20-acre campus, which will be out of space by 2020.

"My personal opinion is that the University of Houston has demonstrated for the last several years that they really don't care about Victoria," said Victoria businessman and commission member Claud Jacobs, who signed the report.

The system's plans included a parking garage where soccer fields were recently installed and four new buildings, two of which would be shared with Victoria College.

"It's financially unfeasible," said Tom Schmidt, president of Urban Engineering who studied the best place to build a campus for the subcommittee.

The system did not contact the city, the commission or VC before drafting the plans.

Community members said they were disappointed with the vague ideas.

"I would have expected more from a university that states their support for expansion," said Dennis Patillo, a Victoria businessman who chaired the subcommittee that studied how to expand the campus.

In response to interview requests with Ray, the system said in a statement that it was committed to creating a destination university in Victoria and "there should be a continuing dialogue" between the two groups.

"We are in the process of developing a campus master plan for UHV and have already submitted a substantial funding request to the Texas Legislature," system spokesperson Shawn Lindsey wrote in an e-mail.

The system submitted a request to the legislative budget board last Monday for about $68 million to expand on the current campus.

However, community leaders said that request means little when the Legislature is facing budget shortages.

"There's no pathway really to say what happens. Each institution and each system is just giving their guesstimates right now of what they think is coming, but there will be changes to all of it," said Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria.

Morrison, who formed the higher education commission in February, said it's too early to make a call about realigning.

"I think it's pretty premature at this time because we are still in the planning stages," she said.

But leaving the system is not out of the question.

"If we cannot come to an agreement, then we will look at other options and I think that's what everyone would expect - that we look at what is in the best interest of the students," she said.

The report, which Morrison noted still had to be approved by the entire commission, also urged the system to reinstate Tim Hudson as president of the university. Hudson was reassigned earlier this month to a system position, a move that community leaders saw as a clear signal UH did not support expansion in Victoria.

"There was nothing that Tim was more passionate about than the growth of this university," commission member Patillo said.

The community leaders said they hoped UH would work with them to find another system more in synch with their vision. They said partnering with another university could be done easily.

Commission members said informal meetings have already been held with representatives with the Texas Tech University System. Calls and e-mails to the Tech chancellor's office Friday were not returned.

Angelo State University, which realigned from the Texas State System to the Texas Tech System, is the most recent university to make such a change.

Armstrong said UHV could do the same.

"At one time I thought we could work out our differences, and I thought they would see the wisdom of our plan," he said of UH. "But their vision is so different from our vision that I think our best opportunity is with another system that will invest more in us than they (UH) are willing to invest."

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