University plans new graduate housing, tennis courts, parking garage east of campus

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Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

The University outlined plans for new graduate student housing, tennis courts and a parking garage east of I-35, according to a UT official. 

The University estimated a $166.4 million cost for the plan, said Rhonda Weldon, University Operations director of communications. The UT System Board of Regents is expected to vote on the plan in May.

Weldon said the University began working on the expansion in 2013. The administration proposed placing tennis courts on Leona Street, which was met with resistance by the community, mainly because of potential noise concerns. The University has since worked on the annexation of East Campus with the Blackland Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that serves low-income families in the neighborhoods east of campus. 

Blackland Board President Bo McCarver said the nonprofit specifically asked the University to move the tennis courts further west. Blackland additionally requested graduate student housing and additional parking. 

“[The University has] accommodated most of our concerns,” McCarver said. “They have come with just about everything we’d asked for. We’re pleased with it, and we are looking forward to having students here as neighbors.”

The housing would be located on the west side of Leona Street and is expected to house 734 students. The University will not contract with any architects until the regents approve the idea, Weldon said.

The Graduate Student Assembly has been advocating for affordable living options close to campus this semester. GSA will continue to relay graduate student opinions on housing to the University, said Joy Wyckoff, psychology graduate student and GSA’s graduate student housing committee chair,

“We’re excited that the University is looking to us when deciding what the graduate students actually want when they design their plans,” Wyckoff said.

The tennis center will feature 12 courts, according to the plan. The previous tennis center, Penick-Allison, was torn down last year to make way for the Dell Medical School. The new courts will be located west of Comal Street, if the plans are approved.

The project also calls for the creation of a 2,000-space parking garage along I-35 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Weldon said she feels the plans will benefit both the University and Blackland.

“Recently, we were able to … come back with some new ideas,” Weldon said. “It turned out to be kind of a win-win, especially when [Blackland] found out the plan would include the housing along the Leona Street line.” 

Randall Porter, director of the Division of Housing and Food Services, had previously refused requests by The Daily Texan to release details of the East Campus master plan. The University decided to release the information after the Austin American-Statesman learned the details of the plan “independently,” Weldon said.

“Currently, Housing and Food is not working on any specific housing projects,” Porter said in an email to the Texan in March. “There [is] some discussion on campus about increased housing, but there are no formal plans at this point.”

Porter was not available for comment.