The Senate is set to hear a bill that would provide UT-Austin with $67,500,000 for renovations at Welch Hall as well as construction on other facilities within the UT System and across the state.
On Wednesday, the Senate Higher Education Committee approved SB 150, a bill that grants state universities more than $2 billion in tuition revenue bonds (TRBs). The complete Senate has not set a date to hear the bill.
TRBs are bonds funded by the state for specific facilities-related projects at universities. According to the bill’s author, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), institutions statewide submitted proposals for their projects to the legislature. In total, 64 projects were proposed, Seliger said.
“We’ve worked extensively for months with institutions and system administration to ensure that only the most important projects are included.“
UT System Chancellor William McRaven testified on the bill at the hearing. He said UT system enrollment and research has increased since the last issuance of revenue bonds in 2006.
“While enrollment has grown and our research has increased, our facilities, kind of, continue to age,” McRaven said.
Most of UT’s requested TRB funding would go to STEM-related facilities, according to McRaven. He said out-of-date buildings and laboratories are not conducive to research.
“Our facilities are anywhere from 25 to 45 years old,” McRaven said. “And we really do have to keep up with the competitive nature of the infrastructure for having 21st-century educational research.”
In the bill’s current form, UT-Austin is slated to receive $67,500,000 to renovate Welch Hall.
There are several other bills that would offer state universities revenue bonds, including one, which Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) proposed, that would give UT-Austin $100 million for Welch Hall and $105 million for renovations to the McCombs School of Business.
Kelsey Evans, College of Natural Sciences chief external relations officer, said the University requested $100 million for Welch Hall, and she is “cautiously optimistic” they will receive between $67.5 and $100 million from the state.
University spokesman Gary Susswein said Welch Hall was chosen to receive funding because it would have a high impact on the student body.
“The renovations at Welch Hall would make significant positive impact on our research, on our students and in maintaining our excellence in the sciences,” Susswein said.
Welch’s oldest wing, built in the late 1920s, is undergoing a $30 million renovation project in June, funded from the University’s and the College of Natural Sciences’ budgets, Evans said. The TRBs would go toward renovating the rest of the building.
The money will go to adding and updating classrooms with office renovations, the creation of collaborative space, increased security measures and updating labs, many of which Evans said are not suitable for lab experiments.
“It’s still going to be Welch, but it’s going to be a modern, sophisticated version of Welch Hall,” Evans said.
Cameron Crane, Student Government natural sciences representative and college ambassador, said most classrooms and offices in the building do not warrant much renovation, but the lab facilities do.
Biology junior Josh Shandera, who has taken many courses in Welch, said the building, as a whole, needs renovation. He said he thinks the projects should be funded by the state.
“The labs are older,” Shandera said. “They’re smaller. They’re cramped. The building itself — you can definitely tell they’re not new. For conducting research, you want to have the best facilities possible.”