UTSA to build another science facility?

Freshly re-elected State Rep. Mike Villarreal wasted no time getting (back) to work last week, submitting three education bills on the first day of open filings.  HB 134 is of particular  interest to UTSA as it would authorize the state to issue $92 million in Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRBs) to cover the construction costs of an “experimental sciences building.” 

This building, also referred to among school officials as the “science instructional building,” would ease growing space deficiencies, shore-up subpar lab airflow safety standards, and further UTSA’s continuing aspirations to achieve Tier I university status. 

HB 134 is the culmination of several years of study and evaluation of the current Science Building. Recent studies have determined that the building’s mechanical airflow system -particularly the fume hoods in chemistry labs – does not meet current and future recommendations. Coupled with an explosion in student population, the time is right to expand. 

“The major beneficiaries of this project would be our students because our teaching labs are not equivalent to our research labs – and they both should be state of the art,” Dr. George Perry, Dean of Sciences at UTSA said. 

Albert Carrisalez, Assistant to the President points out that the building would not just serve the students. 

“We need facilities like this one to lure the academic rock stars out there to teach our students,” Carrisalez said. “Top-notch faculty aren’t necessarily interested in sharing office space.”

 The investment would also garner added trust and interest from local scientific industries as they seek to employ UTSA’s graduates, helping to boost the local economy. The trouble is that the state will most certainly continue slashing its budget to cope with the global economy’s downturn. 

And while these bonds are long-term financial instruments and the university will certainly pay back the debt, it is the taxpayers who actually assume the bond’s interest payment obligations; UTSA will pay only the amount actually borrowed. While the ultimate outcome of the bill will have to wait until the next legislative session in Jan. 2011, Rep. Villarreal is well aware of the concerns. 

“The future of our economy and our communities depends on investing in higher education. Some people may believe we should give up because of the state’s budget shortfall, but I disagree. We need to roll up our sleeves and help UTSA build the facilities it needs to train our nation’s future scientists,” Rep. Villareal said.