UH turns down offer of free land for new campus

Oct. 17, 2009 at 5:17 a.m.
Updated Oct. 18, 2009 at 5:18 a.m.

Someday, a lively, dynamic university could be sitting on Frank Buhler's property.

The Victoria attorney has offered the University of Houston-Victoria at least 100 acres of his family property to build a campus there. That land sits in between Zac Lentz Parkway and the Victoria Regional Airport.

In addition, the Victoria Regional Airport has offered nearly the same amount to the campus, said Gary Burns, Victoria County commissioner.

Combined, that's about 300 acres offered for the new campus.

But, for now, the University of Houston System is keeping UHV at its current location until enrollment growth generates the need for a separate campus, said Ed Hugetz, associate vice-chancellor for planning and university outreach.

"Going to a separate location at this time is not something that our board thinks would be appropriate," Hugetz said. "We don't have enough data that tells us there's an absolute need for that. The timing is such that there's no way we could commit to that kind of a decision."

Sharing space with Victoria College has saved the university money, especially when state funding is low, Hugetz said.

The system must ensure students will enroll at the separate campus to pay off the expansion debts, Hugetz said.

"Moving away from all that infrastructure at Victoria College they share to a brand new facility where we would have to build a whole set to get the basics, that's a cost for the state," Hugetz said. "It would really be very difficult without seeing clearly there was a revenue stream that would come from an enrollment growth."

The current location has enough room for the new 190 underclassmen, Hugetz said.

"We have plenty of room in the existing space UHV has for classrooms," Hugetz said. "The use of that facility is such that there's a huge capacity for them to grow and accommodate that growth."

As of September, UHV had a preliminary enrollment of 3,698, an increase of 525 students from fall 2008.

Taking small steps

In June, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that allowed UHV to become a four-year university. UHV is currently recruiting outside of the Victoria area for its first 190 underclassmen for fall 2010.

Then, in August, the UH Board of Regents approved to purchase a property and renovate it into a residence hall for the new underclassmen, said Carl Carlucci, executive vice-chancellor for administration and finance.

"Right now they're in the middle of closing that deal," Carlucci said. "We're also looking at more than one location."

The first residence hall, expected to be ready by fall 2010, will have 190 beds, 150 of which are for freshmen, Carlucci said.

Carlucci declined to give the location of the residence hall, as well as the cost of the building and renovations because the deal has not been closed yet.

The UH system had to use its own funds for the residence hall because it won't receive state funds for the deal until two years later, Carlucci said.

"We have to invest our own money to get that going, and we have to hope the enrollment comes fairly quickly so we can pay off that debt," Carlucci said.

Community support

Buhler, 65, has a vision of what the new UHV campus will do for the city.

"Expansion of the UHV to a four-year campus would be of great value to Victoria and its future," Buhler said. "I think it would become a showcase for Victoria and University of Houston."

Gary Burns has spent the past four years talking to UHV about different land options, hoping the expansion will happen.

"We're promoting this as an economic development project," Burns said. "It's really a buy-in from everybody - the city, the county - to solicit and refine the offer to what's most attractive to UHV and most beneficial to us. We're just trying to get the best package together we can."

The county is searching for $12 million in funds to extend Airline Road outside the loop and onto Buhler's property. The road's extension, leading to the airport, could be a second entrance to UHV, besides U.S. Highway 59, if the campus is built there, Buhler said.

"I think it's imperative that if they build the campus, that they have two access roads to it," Buhler said. "It would benefit the airport and benefit the city by expanding its infrastructure."

Closeness to the airport also could bring an aviation management program to UHV, something Burns has discussed with Gov. Rick Perry's administration, Burns said.

"We got on the speaker phone with the director of aeronautics at the governor's office, and he sent us a packet, which we immediately sent to UHV."

No decision has been made on the aviation program.

UHV President Tim Hudson said he's been grateful for the city and county's support.

"Throughout its history, UHV has benefited enormously from the generous support of civic-minded, forward-thinking individuals like Mr. Buhler and his family," Hudson said. "We are grateful to them for their powerful vision of the role UHV can play in this community and their willingness to continue to help UHV evolve into a true destination university."

Buhler said there is no specific time restriction to his land offer to UHV.

If years go by without building its campus there, and another organization expresses interest, Buhler would check in with UHV first, he said.

"It depends entirely on what the something else is," he said. "I would probably check with the University of Houston and say, 'I have another offer on this, and if you all don't want it, I'm going to go ahead with this offer.'"



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