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Old ties severed as new university unfolds

Old ties severed as new university unfolds
Texas Tribune

POSTED: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 12:30pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - 12:44pm

The UT System Board of Regents will meet Wednesday to vote on a nearly $50 million agreement with Texas Southmost College that will help it secure land for a new regional university in South Texas.

The land is space that has been shared by the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, which decided to part ways in 2010 after being partners for 19 years. If the UT board approves the proposed agreement, UT-Brownsville would gain at least 66 acres from Texas Southmost College in exchange for at least $44.8 million in settlement money and UT property.

SB 24, by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, passed in the regular legislative session and authorized a new regional university that will combine UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American in Edinburg into one regional university. The acquisition from TSC, along with gifts from the city and possible future land purchases, would result in a Brownsville campus of about 320 acres, according to the UT System.

If the board approves the transaction, it would be the first time it used money from the Permanent University Fund — which only certain UT System and Texas A&M University System institutions have access to — to assist UT-Brownsville.

“You’re not going to see fireworks go off, but remember the constitution established the Permanent University Fund in 1876, and it won’t be until tomorrow that the Rio Grande Valley starts to receive [funds],” said Juliet García, president of UT-Brownsville.

The UT System and UT-Brownsville would partner to pay TSC at least $28.5 million. Under the agreement, UT-Brownsville would also give TSC its science, engineering and technology building, valued at $16.3 million. Although the two institutions are splitting, they will continue to share some buildings and services for a period of time, such as the library at UT-Brownsville.

García said it is crucial the board approve the settlement because it allows both institutions to live independently side by side and to understand what each is responsible for, including infrastructure and utilities.

"We did a little bit of Monopoly game at first. We did a little bit of trading in buildings and trading in land," García said of the process. She said the dividing line between both campuses will be Ringgold Road.

"Students will be able to walk on both sides of that line and never know they're going from one campus to another," García said.

The split between the two institutions was not easy. The partnership was initially set to last 99 years until leaders decided changes were needed. In November 2010, the board agreed to sever ties between the two schools by August 2015. Some said the separation would negatively affect both schools, which would have to divide their buildings and staffs.

Representatives from TSC did not respond to calls for comment by deadline.

Although they are officially parting ways, the schools will still be neighbors and are planning to share some space and services. For instance, under the agreement, students from both institutions will have access to the recreational center and library.

“The community needs both of us to succeed, and I think we’ve made the kind of transaction we can both be proud of,” García said.

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