Texas House Endorses New Engineering Epicenter

As the legislature moves into its final week, one of UT’s highest legislative priorities earns another round of approval.

House Endorses New Engineering Epicenter

Crowded classrooms and outdated laboratories may soon be a thing of the past for students at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering. Working late into the evening Monday, the Texas House of Representatives tentatively approved a bill providing crucial funding for UT’s proposed Engineering Education and Research Center.

Senate Bill 16 (SB 16), authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, and carried in the House by Rep. Jim Pitts, Republican from Waxahachie, would fund construction projects at universities across the state. SB 16 was approved by the Senate last month, and now by the House with a $300 million bonus. If approved on third reading in the House, the bill will go back to the Senate to bless before it can be sent to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.

Bills like SB 16 are traditionally considered every few years in order to keep up with the needs of state universities. Through a mechanism known as tuition revenue bonds—which do not involve tuition or fees—the legislature backs new buildings, labs, and maintenance. But the state has endured a recent drought in construction funding. A tuition revenue bond bill hasn’t passed the legislature since a 2006 special session.

Now the long-anticipated EERC is the closest it has ever been to reality. Support for the omnibus SB 16, which includes all tuition revenue bond projects for universities, has been strong throughout the session. Higher education leaders in the House and Senate, as well as Austin delegation members, have endorsed the bill and the EERC specifically.

Funding for the EERC, if built, will come roughly in thirds from the UT System, private philanthropy, and the money appropriated by SB 16. Cockrell School dean Gregory Fenves has called the EERC UT’s most vital legislative priority aside from base university funding.

Current engineering facilities are severely lacking, with classrooms and labs built for the engineering education of the 1960s. Bringing 430,000 square feet of new multiple-use space, the proposed center would serve as the new home of UT’s largest engineering major, computer and electrical engineering, and serve as a cross-disciplinary home for the Cockrell School.

The House is expected to pass the bill on final reading Tuesday, after which the Senate will consider the House version.

 

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