Record-high enrollment growth at The University of Texas at Dallas is behind the latest update to its campus master plan released in late February.
Over the past decade, the number of students attending UT Dallas has doubled to 28,000. Another 7,000 are expected to enroll by 2029, according to Rick Dempsey, former associate vice president for facilities management. Dempsey retired in February after leading the campus master plan rewrite, which took about a year.
The document provides a road map for how to address this growth via changes to facilities and infrastructure, Dempsey said. A complete overhaul of the plan has not happened since 2003, save for a few targeted updates throughout the years.
“These types of assessments allow you to step back and say, ‘How can we upgrade the overall efficiency of how we are operating?’” he said. “It becomes a way to look at where we are now and where we want to go.”
At the heart of the update is the desire to urbanize rather than spread out, Dempsey said. The document designates districts that, while not ironclad, provide guidance for where new buildings should be constructed—academic buildings at the campus core, housing to the west, research facilities to the north, and athletics and recreation to the south.
For the most part, academic facilities are already grouped together, but a few portable buildings put some distance between classrooms, Dempsey said. By centralizing academics, students will be able to easily walk from one building to another.
Growing pains are most evident in laboratories, where the university has resorted to scheduling some classes on Saturdays to maintain a reasonable student-teacher ratio. As a result, the plan also recommends going vertical by replacing older one-story buildings with more space-efficient alternatives.
“We are at a point that any major building … is going to have to be three stories,” he said.
Most of UT Dallas’ focus in recent years has been on research and academics, Dempsey said. But the campus master plan puts an added emphasis on the “softer side” of university life, he said, with guidelines for expanding and amenitizing arts and athletics facilities.
As UT Dallas shifts from a majority-commuter campus to traditional university, the need for more spaces to gather has become evident, Dempsey said. The plan addresses this shortfall by creating two quads and several dedicated green space areas that integrate two creeks already present on campus.
Dempsey said the plan is intentionally flexible in light of some of the uncertainties surrounding the remaining swaths of undeveloped land on campus, particularly the area just north of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s future Cotton Belt rail station.
The area south of the station is now home to Northside, a mixed-use development that includes retail and housing. Dempsey said options for the north include private development, a research park, an event center or entertainment-related venues.
“We see opportunities up there, but we aren’t exactly sure what is the best opportunity,” he said. “Frankly, what we are trying to do is prevent making anything happen that would restrict us as we go forward.”
Looking forward, Dempsey said there is no set timeline for any of the improvements laid out in the plan. However, what happens during the legislative session regarding higher education funding could have a major impact on how the university proceeds.
In the latest state budget, general revenue funding for UT Dallas was cut by $310,000 and core research funding by $2.3 million. The state also owes UT Dallas $46 million in backlogged funds from the Texas Research Incentive Program, which matches private donations for research activities.
A number of entities, including UT Dallas, the city of Richardson and the Richardson Chamber of Commerce, have urged state legislators to issue tuition revenue bonds to help pay for construction of new buildings and renovations at the university.
“We certainly need resources to continue; we are tapped out from a facilities standpoint,” Dempsey said.