Master plan seeks to transform UHV

March 15, 2012 at 4 p.m.
Updated March 15, 2012 at 10:16 p.m.

The University of Houston-Victoria is touting its vision for transforming the small campus into a booming destination university.

But some community leaders who have been outspoken about UHV's future still question whether the university is headed in the right direction.

UHV recently revealed plans for a 63,000-square-foot academic and economic development building, which jump-starts the university's master plan for 2020 and beyond.

Construction on the $11.5 million building, which will be northeast of the current University Center, is expected to begin later this year. It's the first project in a set of fast-moving plans that puts UHV on the path toward building up its current campus - something critics have long been weary of.

"Now might be a good time to reconsider the idea of a new campus location before more money is spent locking Victoria into a short-term fix with serious long-term flaws," Mayor Will Armstrong said.

UHV and its two current buildings sit on 19 landlocked acres next to Victoria College.

About four years ago, the heirs of Victoria resident Frank Buhler offered 100 acres of his property near the airport to allow UHV to expand as it prepared to welcome freshmen and sophomores for the first time.

UHV never moved on developing the land, and during the past couple of years has dealt with the departure of its president and a legislative bill that sought to switch its affiliation from the University of Houston to Texas A&M University.

This occurred before UHV's current president, Phil Castille, came on board in August. While the master plan was already in the works, Castille took to developing it further with the help of a 2015 planning team.

The team consists of elected officials, education leaders, students, faculty and staff. They've met twice to discuss the master plan - what Castille calls a living document.

"It is not a finished document. It's a practical guide for how we intend to go forward. It's still open to the present," he said.

Castille said he has made and will continue to make community input a priority in UHV's plans. State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, who introduced the Texas A&M bill, said Castille has made strides when it comes to opening communication.

"The most important thing this community wants is to make sure they have a good partner that is going to provide a quality higher education experience for this community," she said. "It's not totally vetted out ... I think it's very important that they get that buy-in and communicate what their long-range plan is. I think that's one of the things we've all been looking for."

UHV is planning to more than double its square-footage for academic space and to grow from offering 250 to 1,235 beds for students by 2020. Castille said the university anticipates making full use of its current acreage to meet enrollment demands in the near future.

"However, UHV continues to look at all possibilities for meeting future student needs, including residential life and student recreation. Meeting these needs may mean that we look at additional acreage in Victoria, just as Victoria College is looking to locate its proposed Emerging Technology Center off-site," Castille said in an email.

Dennis Patillo, who was chairman of the infrastructure committee of the Morrison-created Crossroads Commission on Education, said the debate boils down to how one envisions the future of UHV, which, he noted, is strictly UHV's call.

"One position would be that the existing land that's available to UHV is sufficient, at least for the next few years to fulfill their vision. It does seem though, that, the vision is greater than the land that's available," Patillo said. "It's an awfully expensive exercise to complete that construction and then realize in the next few years you need that new land, when it might be better to begin with a blank canvas."

Armstrong also takes issue with students crossing seven lanes of Houston Highway to get from campus to UHV's two freshmen dorms and a new sophomore dorm to be ready by fall of 2013. On that, he said, UHV has been open to discussing solutions, though Armstrong remains concerned about student safety.

Despite differing opinions on how and where UHV should expand, most people agree the university's future involves collaboration with VC on issues such as parking space.

For the first time, Castille said UHV has included VC in its master planning process.

His excitement for the future of the university is evident, and Student Senate President Emily Bergstrom said the enthusiasm has caught on with students.

The bottom line is that a crane will soon be up and running on Ben Wilson Street, Castille said, erecting a dorm that's going to bring more students to Victoria.

"You have to continually keep planning to attract students," he said. "Our goal is to stay one step ahead of student growth."



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