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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TSUS Bonds Still Waiting For Approval

Today's Houstonian reports that Texas State University System officials say bonds have not yet been sold to fund a series of SHSU construction projects as part of an upcoming, system-wide Capital Improvements Program:
The projects designated to be funded via TSUS bond sales on a financial report on the TSUS website include the Central Plant expansion, the South Residential District and the Lowman Student Center expansion.

TSUS Director of Communications Mike Wintemute explained that because the projects are still at the conceptual level, the bond issue would be resolved at some point in the future.

"These improvements are all currently in planning stages," Wintemute said. "When we move further along (in the building process), funding will be addressed through the sale of bonds."

Though projects such as the $35 million structure to house the Correctional Management Institute of Texas, the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas and the Police Research Center are slated to begin next year, they still must be green-lit by governing bodies before bonds can be issued.

"Approval is a multi-step process involving the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and the TSUS regents," Wintemute said.

The issuance of TSUS bonds to fund capital improvements is not a new development. In 2011, TSUS sold more than $86 million in bonds, part of which financed new instructional facilities at the SHSU University Center in The Woodlands, Texas.

According to Wintmute, there’s no firm timetable on the future sale of bonds, but he did anticipate approval from both the TSUS Board of Regents and the THECB once both bodies formally address the issue.

Ag Arena Construction Pushed Back Due To Lack Of Funds

Earlier this month the Houstonian reported that some building projects would be delayed because of funding. Today they report that the development of the Gibbs Ranch arena joins that list:
The $20 million needed to build the new Gibbs Ranch Agricultural Arena that was projected to begin construction in 2014 has not yet been raised, officials said. The Texas State University System Capital Improvements Plan had projected the arena to be built in 2014. Without the money this won’t happen.

The arena will serve as a place of education for agricultural students, specifically students studying animal science. The education that will take place in the arena will focus on equine (horses) science , as well as working with livestock, specifically cattle.

According to the CIP the arena complex will serve the “University’s need for enhanced educational opportunities, provide a facility with high revenue-generating potential, and serve as a fitting home for the University’s championship rodeo team.”

The arena will provide seating for 5,000, and will eventually include a [practice area for the college rodeo team], covered connector building, a stall barn, an RV parking area, parking for 750 cars, and a horticultural center with classrooms, a floral design lab and greenhouses.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SHSU No Longer Interested In Army Reserve Property

Both the Item and Houstonian have coverage of the surprise announcement, released yesterday:

"Sam Houston State University is no longer interested in acquiring the Army Reserve property and will find an alternative solution to serve our ROTC and Veterans Affairs programs."

Thus the Item:
Gibson released a statement midday Monday that the university would find an alternative solution for its ROTC and Veterans Affairs programs. She and other SHSU officials declined to comment on their decision after an almost three-month contest with the city of Huntsville and the buyer of the property, Tarek Maalouf.
Thus the Houstonian:
The 2.5-acre site was the source of recent controversy due to SHSU’s apparent steps to condemn, or eminent domain, the former Army Reserve building on Sam Houston Avenue.

The dispute rapidly shifted from behind closed doors and into the public eye due in large part to Maalouf’s “Eminent Doom” campaign, consisting of yard signs and an accompanying Facebook page advocating on Maalouf’s behalf. Maalouf and Gibson also each penned letters published in The Houstonian and The Huntsville Item outlining their positions on the impasse.

Student Health and Counseling Center Will Break Ground In October

The Houstonian reports today that SHSU plans to begin the "active construction phase" of the new Student Health and Counseling Center on October 21:
In March, the Sam Houston State University physical plant selected Tellepsen Construction Company, out of Houston for the project.  ...[T]hey will begin mobilizing the construction site Oct. 14. According to Drew Miller, director of the counseling center, this means they will be putting up fencing and mobile buildings and bringing in the rest of the materials.

Students passed a referendum in fall 2012 to raise the student health fee to pay for the building. The referendum raised the fee $37, from $38 to $75. The fee increase went into place in spring 2013.

The new building will offer new services to students such as same-day appointments, a 24-hour nursing and counseling hotline, and an expanded pharmacy. The new 28,000 square-foot building will house health services and the counseling center.

The building is expected to be ready for the fall 2014 students to be able to use.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

SHSU Denies Lease, Aims To Buy Property

The Item reported September 13 that SHSU officials said no to Maalouf Properties on an offer of a $135,000-a-year lease on property it wants on Sam Houston Avenue:
Maalouf offered SHSU administrators a five-year lease at $11,250 per month on the 2.5-acre site at 2257 Sam Houston Ave., which includes a 1,900 square foot decommissioned Army Reserve facility. The terms of the lease also include five options to renew the lease and a $33,750 security deposit.

But SHSU spokeswoman Julia May said the university has been clear about its intentions to purchase the 2.5-acre site, first from the city of Huntsville and then from buyer Maalouf, even though SHSU officials did not bid on it during the city’s open bid period in June.

Since then, SHSU has considered purchasing the land either directly or through mediation, as well as threatening to acquire it from Maalouf through eminent domain.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Water Main Breaks Behind SHSU Parking Garage

From the Houstonian:

A water main broke on campus at the intersection of 17th Street and Ron Randleman [Avenue I] , according to a Huntsville Public Utilities official.  The official said that water mains have been breaking all over town due to hot weather conditions and the ground shifting.  "It will take several hours [to fix]," he said. "We aren't in a part of town where we can just turn the water off."  Traffic leaving the Parking Garage is being directed down 17th Street.

City Denies ‘Property’ Meeting

The latest in the battle for the former army reverse property includes City of Huntsville personnel denying meeting with SHSU officials specifically on the property in question, reports the Huntsville Item [Sep. 11]:
City Manager Matt Benoit and Economic Development Director Aron Kulhavy challenged for the first time Wednesday the Sam Houston State University administrators and state regents' version of a March conversation SHSU officials say they had with city officials staking a clear claim to the old Armory site on Sam Houston Avenue.

Benoit and Kulhavy confirmed Wednesday that they did meet March 12 with SHSU Vice President for Finance and Operations Al Hooten at Hooten’s office on campus to review the Campus Master Plan Update but both denied being presented with SHSU’s plan to purchase the Army Reserve Building, which was officially sold by the city to Maalouf Properties on Aug. 22.

Benoit and Kulhavy said Hooten did not mention the site at 2257 Sam Houston Ave. at the March 12 meeting — as Hooten and SHSU President Dana Gibson have claimed several times since July 2 when the city accepted Maalouf Properties’ sole bid on the site. Hooten didn’t mention the site when he unveiled the Campus Master Plan to the city of Huntsville’s representatives March 12 and would not give them a copy of the master plan document at the close of the meeting to use as reference. Texas State University System Vice Chancellor Fernando Gomez also mentioned that the property was discussed during the meeting in a letter obtained by the Huntsville Item.

SHSU has been in public pursuit of the 2.5-acre property since the July 2 City Council meeting, when the council voted to award a $650,000 bid to Maalouf Properties despite Hooten’s late attempt to block the bid. On June 28, the day after the City Council meeting agenda was released, Hooten sent a formal request to Benoit and Mayor Mac Woodward to discard any bids.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SHSU Denied Legislative Bonds For New Buildings

Several SHSU departments will be re-evaluating growth plans, the Houstonian reported on September 10, because the Texas Legislature failure to pass tuition revenue bonds:
Agriculture and engineering, art, and the nursing departments were in line to get new buildings by 2015 to help manage the growth of students, according to Texas State University System records.

Tuition revenue bonds, or loans to an institution using tuition as the payback promise, were the main funding for the construction projects. The revenue bonds must be passed by the Texas Legislature in order for them to be given to the universities. Money for the Nursing, Biology and Allied Health Building was requested in SB16, which passed the House but failed to reach a vote in the Senate.

The art department needs new buildings, according to department chair Michael Henderson. The current art buildings do not provide enough space for the art students, he said, which spreads the students into other buildings around campus. Henderson wants all of the art students to be centrally located. “One of the issues we have (is that) the upper administration knows (the art department needs new buildings),” Henderson said. “So, they are hesitant to put money in our current buildings since they will be torn down soon,” The new art complex is scheduled to be built in 2017. However, if the state denies the revenue bonds again, the university will not get the $12.6 million that they need.

The agricultural department’s original building was torn down in the 1980’s and they were relocated to the Thomason building. According to Kelley, the department was told that it would be a temporary relocation until a new building could be constructed. “Our temporary relocation has (lasted) for 30 years now,” [agriculture department chair Stanley] Kelley said. According to Kelley, the delay in a new facility has prevented the department from having modernized classroom and laboratory space. “We have no wall or floor outlets so students can charge or utilize electronic devices during class,” Kelley said. “[There are] no PODs or vending areas, and minimum gathering or social area for a department that has more than 1,100 majors.”

The school of nursing officials said they are also in need of a new building. Currently, they are only able to let 40 students in a semester due to the lack of space. “We have really outgrown this building,” Anne Stiles, Ph.D., chair of the school of nursing, said about the Academic Building III in a previous Houstonian article. The new building was supposed to start being built next year, but they needed $37.5 million from tuition revenue bonds to start to build their $39.7 million building.

SHSU wasn't the only university that didn't receive the revenue bonds. No Texas schools did. The next time tuition revenue bonds can be passed will be when the Texas Legislature meets in session again in 2015.

Residence Halls Overcrowded, New Dorm Pushed Back

The September 10 edition of the Houstonian highlights some of the issues in student housing that begin the Fall 2013 semester:
In order to meet the demand of the growing number of students who live on campus, SHSU will be building two dormitories scheduled to be open by the 2016-17 academic year, according to officials.

The new facilities, tentatively named the South Residential District, will be located south of 21st Street between Ave. I and Ave. J, and should house approximately 650 students in total.

The site for the project is currently home to a university-operated commuter parking lot and the Richmond Apartments, which were purchased by SHSU in 2012. The Richmond Apartments will be demolished to clear space for a new parking lot, and the South Residential District dorms will be built where the parking lot lies.
The proposal also includes a road expansion to provide better access to the new residence halls.

"A lot of times, when you need to build a new dorm, you can raze one of the old ones and construct on that lot," [director of residence life Joellen] Tipton said. “We can’t afford to lose a dorm for the length of time it would take to build another one in its place. During pre-planning we had to determine where we had the space and where it was feasible to build the new residential complex.”

Currently, residence life uses Sorority Hill for overflow housing for freshman girls who couldn't be accommodated in a regular dorm with the hope that once the rush period ends, sorority pledges who live in a dorm on campus would be willing to swap rooms with a student temporarily living in their respective sorority house.

The TSUS Board of Regents approved the development of the South Residential District at their quarterly meeting in May as part of an omnibus capital improvements program, which included several renovations to the SHSU campus.

In addition to constructing the South Residential District, the capital improvements program includes the eventual demolition of Randel, Vick and Spivey Houses, White Hall, and Sorority Hill, the construction of a new art complex and $30 million in renovations to the Lowman Student Center.

TSUS documents show the cost of the project will total more than $87.5 million, by far the largest capital improvement project slated through 2019.

The next step in the development of the South Residential District is the design phase, which precedes construction. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for summer 2015.

2013 State of the University Address

Today's Houstonian has some highlights from SHSU President Dana Gibson's September 5 State of the University:
Gibson said that the university has a projected goal of 18,830 students in fall 2013. The projected enrollment shows a 40 percent growth over the past ten years from fall 2003. She also indicated that although the official tally won’t be taken until the 12th day after classes started, enrollment was unofficially over 19,000.

Gibson also highlighted Master Plan changes at the meeting Thursday. She focused on land allocation and gave updates on various building projects.

"It’s good for you to know as member of the university and community to know where we are going," Gibson said.

The university was transferred 75 acres from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in August and is in the final process of transferring the deeds. The land, which is on the north side of town on Highway 75 North, will be the home to a new TDCJ training facility. This is the first project that’s being planned this year, according to Gibson.

Another project Gibson mentioned was a new residential complex on the south side of campus on the parking lot currently between Ave. I and Ave. J.

More updates presented include the new Student Health and Counseling Center. She said that she hopes to break ground on the new building by the end of the year.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Gibson, Maalouf Dispute Land Offer

The Friday 6 edition of the Huntsville Item has more on the land dispute between SHSU and developer Tarek Maalouf:
Sam Houston State University President Dana Gibson on Friday morning told KSAM-FM 101.7 that the university is still waiting for a counter offer from Maalouf Properties for the 2.5-acre site at 2257 Sam Houston Ave. — which includes a 1,900 square foot decommissioned federal military reserve facility commonly referred to as the armory.

But property owner Tarek Maalouf responded Friday afternoon by offering $1,000 to the SHSU ROTC program for every time Gibson could prove that she personally called or emailed him regarding the property, particularly since Maalouf and the city of Huntsville finalized the sale Aug. 22.

The university has made it clear it intends to use eminent domain to acquire the land if Maalouf does not agree to sell.

Maalouf plans to build mixed usage retail and residential complexes on the Sam Houston Avenue property, with coffee shops and possibly eateries on the ground floor and higher end lofts above. The university is still interested in purchasing the property, but the Texas State University System Board of Regents could consider condemnation through eminent domain if negotiations are unsuccessful.

"I will offer $1,000 to the (Sam Houston State University) ROTC department for every communication Dana Gibson, herself, can prove that she sent from her to me about this property," Maalouf said. "Whether it’s communication via email, or an attempt to communicate via the phone line, if she can prove that she attempted to contact me since this is such an important deal to the university, I’ll give donate $1,000 for every occurrence she can prove."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Viewpoints: Army Reserve Center, Eminent Domain, And So On

The Houstonian's September 3 edition features letters from both SHSU President Dr. Dana Gibson and Huntsville developer Tarek Maalouf, president of Maalouf Properties, surrounding the sale of the former Army Reserve Center from the City of Huntsville.