Big-picture projects proceeding as anticipated at Austin-area colleges

Plans to replace its system chancellor and campus president have not stopped The University of Texas at Austin from proceeding on multiple long-term plans.

Most notably, construction is underway on the Dell Medical School following a November 2012 voter-approved bond.

The project could spur an entire medical district that spawns collaboration among the university, the state, private developers and researchers in the northeast corner of downtown Austin, said Fritz Steiner, School of Architecture dean and co-chairman of the Master Plan Advisory Committee that created the 2012 Campus Master Plan.

Steiner was also helped create the 2013 Medical District Master Plan.

Because of such master-planning efforts, the medical district is one of three major campus initiatives that Steiner considers too far along to be impacted by any change in university leadership.

"We would not be moving as well along as we are now if we wouldn't have had a plan in place," Steiner said.

Steiner also points to two new buildings for the Cockrell School of Engineering and construction on the new Robert B. Rowling Hall on Guadalupe Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as notable projects entering the fall semester.

Also, efforts have been underway in the school's athletics department since last year to create a new master plan that potentially identifies where to build a new arena, with the Irwin Center expected to be demolished to make way for the new medical school.

Looking forward, Steiner recommends the new system chancellor and campus president consider adding more on-campus residences to help improve four-year graduation rates.

"That is one of the best ways of getting kids to graduate on time," he said. "Compared to most schools, we have relatively few students on campus."

Also, if passed in November, Steiner said UT-Austin officials are ready to connect the campus and new medical district through urban rail, a project he said would be helpful for circulating students as well as faculty and patients.

Austin Community College

ACC, too, awaits the fate of a November bond package—its own proposal.

The school is asking district voters to approve a nearly $386 million bond package and 3 cent tax cap increase.

The bond package is broken down into two propositions, one for planned growth and workforce advancement, and a second for safety, technology, environmental and sustainability improvements.

If both propositions are approved, the bond money will help pay for various projects, including $152.8 million in improvements to the new ACC Highland Campus and a new $60 million campus in Leander.

Also, board members have informally pledged to maintain in-district tuition levels for the next four years if the proposed tax cap increase—an increase of 1 cent in 2016, 2018 and 2020—is approved. In-district tuition will remain the same this upcoming academic year at $67 per credit hour, meaning the average full-time student will pay $1,275 in tuition and fees in the fall semester. An out-of-district full-time student would pay $4,305.

All ACC district voters can participate in the election. About 75 percent of the voting population in ACC's district lives in Travis County, 20 percent of voters live in Williamson County and the remaining 5 percent live in Caldwell, Hays, Bastrop and Lee counties.

Until the election, ACC can distribute factual information about the school's needs such as statistics on overcrowding, information about needed safety upgrades and how the bond money will be used.

The last time ACC asked voters to approve a bond package or tax increase came in 2003, when a $99 million bond passed with 57 percent of the vote. Also, voters agreed to raise the tax cap to its present 9.49 cent rate per $100 of property valuation.

2013–14 Year in review

The University of Texas

  • The O'Donnell Foundation commits $9.3 million in November to the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences.

  • Steve Patterson in November replaces DeLoss Dodds as men's sports athletic director. Dodds retired after 32 years.

  • Charlie Strong is named the school's 29th head football coach in January.

  • The Mulva family announced in January plans to donate $60 million to the business and engineering schools.

  • Dr. Clay Johnston was named the inaugural dean of the Dell Medical School on Jan. 21.

  • Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa announces Feb. 10 his intention to step down as the head of The University of Texas system after five years. In late July, retired Navy Adm. William H. McRaven was named as the sole finalist to replace Cigarroa. The transition became official Aug. 21.

  • The university's new teaching hospital will be named Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, the school announced in April—the same month construction started on the new medical school.

  • The Board of Regents in May approved plans for Robert B. Rowling Hall, which will house the McCombs School of Business Texas MBA and Texas MSTC programs. The 458,000-square-foot building will be on the corner of Guadalupe Street and East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Construction begins in the fall and is expected to be complete in early 2017.

  • The U.S. Department of Energy in June awards a $12 million, four-year grant to the school to fund carbon storage research aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

  • In early July it is learned that UT-Austin President Bill Powers will resign in June 2015.

  • School leaders commend a July court ruling that determined the university's use of ethnicity as one factor in determining college admissions to be constitutional.

  • Alumnus T.W. "Tom" Whaley leaves $35 million for an engineering school endowment, the school announces in August.

Austin Community College

  • The ACC Elgin Campus opens Aug. 29, 2013.

  • ACC celebrates its 40th anniversary Sept. 17 with a career and resource fair and a history exhibit.

  • A grand opening celebration for the new ACC Hays Campus takes place Jan. 16 in Kyle.

  • The board of trustees votes June 16 to ask district voters to approve a $385.97 million bond package and a 3 cent tax cap increase proposal on the November ballot. If approved, the bond money will be used to fund various facility projects, and the tax cap increase may help keep in-district tuition from increasing.

  • On July 7 board members authorize negotiations to complete a public-private partnership between the school and Austin commercial real estate developer Live-Oak Gottesman to renovate the four-story, 194,000-square-foot former Dillard's space at Highland Mall—the new ACC Highland campus. The deal, which could be approved as early as Sept. 7, would allow cloud management technology company Rackspace Hosting to move in by late 2015.

  • ACC Highland Campus debuts Aug. 27 as part of a grand-opening celebration and dedication ceremony. The first phase of the campus includes the ACCelerator—the nation's largest learning lab—in the renovated 200,000-square-foot former JCPenney space.

By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.