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UH system develops plan to ask state for $75 million to build Victoria campus

By BY GABE SEMENZA
July 31, 2010 at 2:31 a.m.
Updated Aug. 1, 2010 at 3:01 a.m.


The University of Houston System's Board of Regents wants the state to fund $75 million to build a new Victoria campus.

The plan, approved Friday, reverses the system's unofficial opinion from a few months ago.

The change in heart comes in part because of a letter written by Mayor Will Armstrong, as well as meetings with the Crossroads Commission on Education, the incoming board of regents chairwoman said.

"We hope we're responding to the aspirations, plans and goals of the Victoria community to make the University of Houston-Victoria a destination university," Carroll Robertson Ray said.

Although details of the plan were unclear, Ray said the university system wants $61.5 million in state tuition revenue bonds for new academic buildings and $15 million in other funds for startup support.

"We're trying right now to reach out to Rep. Geanie Morrison," she said.

Morrison, R-Victoria, formed the Crossroads Commission on Education in March. The commission consists of 21 local leaders whose goals are to produce a highly skilled workforce and to reach the state's "Closing the Gaps" initiative by 2015.

Morrison did not return calls to her home and cell phone.

The commission met publicly with the board of regents in May and presented a plan to build a new, separate campus on 300 donated acres near the airport on Airline Road. It asked regents to accept the donated land and to, in turn, ask the state legislature for $80 million to build a new campus.

Welcome Wilson, the outgoing board of regents chairman, said he supported Victoria's wishes but that he could not ask for $80 million. The University of Houston-Victoria would first have to increase enrollment and further prove a need for more land.

Ray's news, then, might surprise some in Victoria who pushed for the expansion. Reaction from commission members was subdued because they said they had yet to review details of the regents' plan.

"My reaction is: That's very interesting," Armstrong, the mayor and commission member, said. "I would obviously like to know more. We want to do what's best for Victoria."

"That's positive," Dennis Patillo, a Victoria businessman and commission member, said. "Victoria is supremely located to fill the higher education needs in Texas."

Ray said the regents' plan calls for the new campus to be built at the University of Houston-Victoria's current location, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St., and not on the 300 donated acres. The location of the new campus has been a point of contention between the commission members and the UH System.

In a letter July 7 to Ray, Armstrong warned the university system that if it doesn't support a new campus in Victoria, he wants the local university to join a system that will.

Although Armstrong sent the letter on City of Victoria letterhead, the mayor by phone said he was not speaking for the city or the education commission.

Armstrong asked Ray and the board of regents in the letter to accept the free land and to ask the state legislature for $80 million.

If the board of regents fails to support those requests, Armstrong asked Ray to "help us partner with another university system that will more closely match our vision for higher education in Victoria."

Ray then asked for a meeting with Armstrong and Patillo, she said. The education commission also met again with regents.

"Based on all that, we were challenged," Ray said. "What can we do to work with these aspirations and these plans? We put our pencil to it. We wanted to achieve both our goals and serve Victoria and the students of Texas."

The commission hopes to have the appropriations secured by the 2011 legislative session and for construction of a new campus to begin by 2012.

A study suggests the expansion could pump $2.8 billion into the local economy - based on estimates of projected university enrollment increases from 2015 to 2024.

Ray said the board of regents also is in the process of approving requests for public-private partnerships to build additional student housing.

"We're excited about UHV's current location, and we can create space for future potential growth right where we sit," Ray said. "The current location recognizes and confirms our partnership with Victoria College. We believe the synergies are tremendous and can create better student success."

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