Student Housing: Tech regents considering 32-acre housing complex

By Matthew McGowan for AVALANCHE-JOURNAL

Location. Location. Location?

That last question mark continued to cast a shadow over Texas Tech’s student housing shortage Friday as the university’s governing board weighed its options for a new residence hall.

Tech’s Board of Regents quickly crossed off a list of routine housekeeping items on the university’s to-do list during its brief morning meeting, but it left looming several questions about where Tech will put its next housing facility.

Or, rather, facilities.

A $750,000 feasibility study could offer more answers at the board’s next meeting in December. Regents on Friday authorized administrators to contract an outside consulting firm to look into a proposed $150-plus million urban housing complex on the western outskirts of campus.

The project, according to a conceptual framework by Tech’s campus planners, would include a leafy 32-acre cluster of eateries, retail space and loft-style residence halls with up to 2,000 beds — just enough to meet Tech’s goal of housing 25 percent of the 40,000 enrollment target by 2020.

This semester’s 6,700 campus residents, meanwhile, are already pushing capacity. That’s up 1,316 students in a five-year period that saw the construction of just one 500-bed residence hall.

“We’re full,” Michael Shonrock, Tech’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, told regents.

The board’s approval of the study came with a caveat for Vice Chancellor Michael Molina: Don’t rule out other options.

“I know it’s only a study,” said board Vice Chairman Jerry Turner, “but I want to make sure we’re studying the right things.”

Several regents wondered if Tech should build a less-ambitious residence hall first and leave the sprawling complex for later.

They were also quick to point out the location of the project may be put to better use as a golden goose.

The proposed site surrounding the Texas Tech Federal Credit Union at the intersection of 19th Street and the Marsha Sharp Freeway is somewhat of a crown jewel in the local real estate market with an estimated value of more than $20 million, or $750,000 per acre.

Regents said they don’t intend to sell the property outright, but the board has entertained the idea of leasing the land to developers, which could create a highly lucrative new revenue stream for research and academics.

The proposal lost momentum in recent months after a similar arrangement at Angelo State University, Tech’s sister school in San Angelo, fell through after economic woes prompted the developer to cool its heels.

Regent John Scovell, however, returned Friday to the prospect of such an arrangement on the system’s flagship campus.

Although the mixed-use complex could very well prove the best use of the land, he added, the university must carefully vet other available sites — including some closer to the campus core — before breaking ground.

Campus planners in February identified roughly nine possible sites across campus, including one near the intersection of Fourth Street and Indiana Avenue about 1.5 miles from Memorial Circle.

The other option that resurfaced Friday was a renovation of the now-vacant Weeks Hall in the heart of campus, but Molina said the project would be fraught with costly asbestos removal. The facility’s renovation could also put a considerable strain on nearby parking.

Despite its caution, the board knows the clock is winding down as enrollment shoots up.

Whatever the solution, Tech Chancellor Kent Hance said, construction must begin by next spring if Tech hopes to meet its fall 2012 deadline, which is “coming fast.”

“We’ve got to get going,” Regent John Huffaker said. “This piece of property (on the western edge of campus) is going to be the fly in the ointment every time we talk about student housing. Let’s figure out what we’re going to do with it.”

A facility shuffle on the research side also inched forward Friday when regents approved a $2 million renovation of the former print shop. The Exercise Sports Sciences department, which is turning its space over to a new strategic hire in engineering, is slated to move into the former shop next summer.

In other business, regents also heard from a pair of top officials with the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The $3 billion fund, approved by voters in 2007, began distributing the cancer research grants this year to universities and agencies across the state.

The 10-year fund is slated to dry up by 2020.

During this past year, Tech’s Health Sciences Center has received some $5 million of the $215 million awarded thus far.

“I see a tremendous potential for that to increase in coming years,” said the initiative’s executive director, Bill Gimson.

The HSC has 15 grant proposals pending.

Tech stands to receive more grants before the fund dries up, Gimson said.

The HSC, as the largest health care player between Dallas and Phoenix, is a pioneer in the development of cancer programs for rural populations.

[lubbockonline.com]

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