Regents want to keep UTB at current site - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Regents want to keep UTB at current site

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Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013 10:00 am | Updated: 11:29 am, Fri May 10, 2013.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents decided Thursday to keep UTB at its current location.

The regents passed a motion that said maintaining the university’s downtown location would “result in a compact urban campus and is the preferred location for the campus.”

The motion also authorizes the executive director of real estate to execute a contract with Texas Southmost College in which the University of Texas at Brownsville would lease buildings from the Fort Brown campus and lease space in the International Technology, Education and Commerce Center.

A second motion instructs staff members from UTB to continue discussions with the city about the parcels of land it has offered the university. The land includes almost 70 acres on the south side of West University Boulevard, of which 47.96 acres belongs to Lincoln Park.

The negotiations include land swaps between the two schools.

Under existing proposals, UTB would gain land north and south of West University Boulevard from TSC as well as the University Boulevard classroom and library building and the Student Union Building.

In return, TSC would receive the Science, Engineering and Technology Building and the university’s leasehold interest in the land it sits on. UTB would also have to drop its interest to purchase the former National Guard Armory on Ringgold Road.

The university would pay the difference of the property values to TSC.

“This is all still being negotiated,” Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said in an email. “I can’t hazard a guess on when it will be approved or how close we are to an agreement.”

UTB President Juliet V. Garcia did not provide comment despite repeated phone calls and multiple messages left for her on Thursday.

The TSC Board of Trustees met Thursday to discuss real estate issues pertaining to UTB. After more than three hours of discussion in executive session the board unanimously approved continuing real estate discussions with the university.

TSC Board of Trustees Chair Francisco Rendon said talks are continuing with UT.

“There will be more information on the agenda items (next meeting),” Rendon said. “The items will be more specific.”

“We both need each other,” Rendon said of the relationship between TSC and UTB. “Texas Southmost is going to be the biggest feeder school for Texas-Brownsville and our students will be motivated to continue after their associate’s degree.”

Rendon could not say when exactly an agreement between the schools would be announced, but he said it would be “as soon as possible.”

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said if TSC agrees to the negotiation points it would be great for both schools.

“I know they’ve been in negotiations,” Martinez said. “Both of them have worked extremely hard and I applaud them for their efforts. I think that both sides have tremendous gains to be right next to each other.”

Legislative update

During the meeting Barry McBee, the vice chancellor for governmental relations, presented regents with a legislative update.

McBee said the legislative session has been good for higher education in the University of Texas System.

He added a caveat.

“Every issue is unresolved,” McBee said.

With only three weeks left in the session, he said he hopes the education issues would be resolved without the need for the Legislature to go into special sessions.

McBee also spoke about the newly created institution as UTB merges with the University of Texas-Pan American.

“The establishment of a new university in South Texas achieved enormous support when introduced in both chambers,” McBee said.

However, on Wednesday, the legislation faced its first obstacle.

House Bill 1000, which was passed by the House in March, was amended in the Senate education committee on Wednesday to place medical school students in Hidalgo County for the first two years of their courses and then allow them to complete their final two years in Cameron County. State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who co-authored the House bill, said he would not support the bill as amended.

McBee, who was present during the hearing, said UT preferred the original bill, but UT just wants to see the legislation pass.

During the regents meetings, McBee said it looked like tuition revenue bonds are a priority in both chambers.

The bonds are meant to cover campus construction projects. In January, Garcia requested more than $150 million in tuition revenue bonds to fund of a new UTB campus.

McBee also said the system was working through issues with the dissolution of the partnership between UTB and TSC.

“Time is running short; fatigue is setting in and patience is wearing thin,” McBee said about the legislative session.

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