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UHV buys land to begin campus expansion

By BY MELISSA CROWE and CAROLINA ASTRAIN - MCROWE@VICAD.COM, CASTRAIN@VICAD.COM
Nov. 15, 2013 at 5:15 a.m.
Updated Nov. 16, 2013 at 5:16 a.m.

Mike Simmons, 81, takes down his flags outside his apartment before the sunset. Simmons is a resident of Casa Del Rio, which was purchased by the University of Houston-Victoria to expand the campus. Simmons received his notice Friday to start planning for his next move.

A $4.23 million property deal will pave the way for higher education growth, University of Houston-Victoria officials announced Friday.

The university, which has experienced significant growth in enrollment the past few years, is in desperate need of additional academic space, said UHV President Phil Castille.

The newly purchased 5.1 acres, located across the campus on Ben Wilson Street, could be the home to an academic building in the future. However, plans are not final.

Using money provided by the UH System, the university completed the purchase of the apartment complexes Casa Del Rio and the Arlington from Image-Riggle Corp. and Casa Del Rio Ltd. on Thursday.

Castille called the purchase "a major acquisition."

"The support from the UH System was both timely and essential," he said.

Urban Engineering President Tom Schmidt said the property is a good site for expansion.

While the 5 acres experience some flooding issues, once the buildings are demolished, the university can address the drainage problems, Schmidt said.

"As they tear this down and build new buildings, it'll be an improvement over the current situation," he said.

He said the expansion is a plus for the community.

"Anytime we can expand our educational opportunities, it's great for Victoria," Schmidt said. "They made the decision to expand at this site, and we need to jump on board," he said.

Some worry the move was not prudent.

Victoria County officials and private land owners committed up to 250 acres near the Victoria Regional Airport property for a possible new UHV campus March 31, 2008.

UH System officials did not accept the offer.

Claud Jacobs, a Victoria businessman and member of the Victoria County Navigation District, opposes the property purchase, which was approved by the UH System Board of Regents and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

He questioned why the university would buy property and tear down building when it was offered property five years ago.

"I don't think that's a very wise move at all," Jacobs said.

In order to build on the newly acquired property, the legislature must give approval to the university's upcoming $90 million tuition revenue bond request in 2015, Castille said.

"But even if the legislature passed it, and the governor signed it, that funding might not reach us until the next fiscal year of 2016," Castille said. "... So for the time being, at least for another year, there will be no change in the status of those apartments."

The university will not have a construction timeline in place until it finalizes its request through the Legislative Budget Board.

Still, members of the community are eager for the expansion.

Dennis Patillo, a Victoria restaurateur, said he is confident the expansion will have a positive impact on the region.

With companies relocating and expanding in Victoria, the need for qualified, trained employees is greater than ever, he said.

"Education is the bedrock of that need," Patillo said. "Everything that can be done, from the public school system to the state universities ... we need whatever expansions in education we can provide."

He said higher education helps people attain a more viable economic future.

"What needs to be kept in the forefront is how we serve the youth of Victoria and this region," Patillo said. "I am 100 percent convinced that there is no pathway to a quality job without quality education."

Before any construction begins, the university will demolish the two apartment complexes on the site, Casa Del Rio and the Arlington.

Tenants of the Arlington and Casa Del Rio received notice of the purchase Friday morning, said Nancy Garner, president and broker of Woolson Real Estate and president of Image-Riggle Corp.

"We're pleased that the university has some expansion room now," Garner said. "I'm equally pleased that we have a long-term plan to transition out our tenants."

Mike Simmons, who has lived in Casa Del Rio for the past 20 years, received his notice Friday that he should start planning for his next move.

"I'll probably check with them about relocating to another unit," Simmons said. "The management here and maintenance personnel at Woolson - they have been outstanding people."

His lease ends in July, but Garner said, according to the agreement with the tenants, he could have until November 2014 before needing to move out.

Arlington has 56 units while Casa Del Rio has 80 that will need to be vacated once the university acquires money through its upcoming tuition revenue bond request pending in the 2015 legislative session.

Garner's company and two others are constructing more than 500 new units where Casa Del Rio and Arlington tenants may be relocated, as well as the existing properties they manage.

Woolson Real Estate has managed Arlington since 1971 and Casa Del Rio since 1991.

In the meantime, the university is continuing to grow with the construction of an Academic and Regional Economic Development Building, previously coined the Academic Economic Development Building, which is expected to be complete in 2015.

"We're about to break ground next week on a new academic building," Castille said.

While that facility will help meet the university's immediate needs, he said he is confident the growth will continue.

"We believe we're going to encounter expanding enrollment," he said.

He said he can already visualize the new property with expanded classrooms and more students and the possibilities that come with the expansion.

"We are foreseeing an academic building being put there," he said. "Whether it's one or two, one first or a second one later ... well, it's just unknown at this point."

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