Senate Passes Funds for New Engineering Building

A proposed revamp of the University’s engineering facilities takes another big step forward.

Senate Passes Funds for New Engineering Building

One of UT’s most important legislative priorities is moving closer to reality. In a move toward ending a long dry spell for campus construction projects, the Texas state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allocate funds for UT’s proposed Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC), among other projects at public colleges and universities across the state.

The University’s 430,000-square-foot teaching and research space is meant to create a hub for engineering education, replace 1950s-era classrooms and labs, and spur undergraduate collaboration across engineering fields. Cockrell School of Engineering dean Gregory Fenves says Texas’ continued growth and prosperity will hinge on the breakthroughs he expects from the EERC. He called the building UT’s number one legislative priority, aside from base funding for instruction.

Senate Bill 16, put forth by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, authorizes $2.4 billion for construction projects at 58 public institutions statewide through tuition revenue bonds, a process that provides state-funded debt service for new buildings. In an interview for the UT Advocates podcast this month, Sen. Zaffirni (D-Laredo) said the bill was of “critical importance” toward completing the massive and direly needed facility.

Zaffirini worked with fellow Senate higher education committee members Kevin Eltife, BBA ’81 (R-Tyler), and Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who chairs the committee, to create Senate Bill 16. Supporting legislation has been filed by Austin Sen. Kirk Watson (D), and state Rep. Donna Howard, BSN ’75, MA ’77 (D).

Individual colleges and universities in Texas lack their own construction budgets, and rely on philanthropy and appropriations to complete building projects. The University proposed a tuition-revenue bond for the EERC in 2011, but it did not move out of committee for a vote. In fact, no tuition revenue bonds have been passed since a 2006 special session. The $95 million provided by Senate Bill 16 is roughly one third of the total cost, with another third provided by the UT System, and the final third from philanthropy.

Last year, alumnus and National Instruments founder Jim Truchard, BS ’64, MA ’67, PhD ’74, Life Member, gave a boost to fundraising through a $10 million gift to the EERC.

“This is the perfect time to invest in these projects that would create jobs and have a dramatic economic multiplier effect on our state.”

Zaffirini stressed that now is an opportune time to build. “The economy is recovering, interest rates and construction costs are relatively low, and Texas university enrollments are spiraling upward,” Zaffirini said in a statement. “This is the perfect time to invest in these projects that would create jobs and have a dramatic economic multiplier effect on our state.”

Higher education leaders in the legislature have also endorsed the EERC, and Texas Exes has made it a major advocacy issue. In January, both higher education committee chairs, Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) and Seliger, spoke in favor of the EERC.

“If we don’t do it, we’re going to hurt this state, and we’re going to hurt this university,” Branch said.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Read more: Extended coverage of the EERC and tuition revenue bonds.

Learn more about Texas Exes advocacy efforts here.

The rotunda of the Texas State Capitol. Photo courtesy wallyg via Flickr Creative Commons.


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