The UT Board of Regents requested $100 million from the Texas Legislature last September to renovate the J.T. Patterson Laboratories Building.
The funding request, called a Tuition Revenue Bond, did not make it onto the House and Senate’s respective budget bills, meaning they are not planning on funding it — at least, not yet.
“There’s no (Tuition Revenue Bond) money (for Patterson labs) that has been put into the introduced bills,” University spokesman J.B. Bird said. “It’s really up to the Legislature to decide to fund (TRBs). Some years they decide to, and some years they do not.”
The Patterson labs, built in 1967, need modern laboratory spaces and updated machinery to keep up with the College of Natural Sciences’ research mission, according to the bond request.
Historically, the Legislature approves the Tuition Revenue Bond requests every other session, but it is not unusual for that funding to be excluded from the House and Senate budget bills, said Julie Eklund from the Texas Higher Education
“Generally, funding for debt service for new TRB requests is not included in the introduced appropriations bill,” Eklund said in an email. “If the Legislature does not authorize a TRB an institution has requested, then the institution must find other sources of funds if it wants to move forward with the project.”
Bird said the Legislature could still decide to fund requests later in the session. The $100 million request comprised only two-thirds of the total cost of the renovations, and the University was going to rely on donations and University funds for the final $50 million, Bird said. Laurie Lentz, communications manager for UT Financial and Administrative Services, said depending on the priority of the project, the University could utilize private or public University funds, other institutional funds or debt to pay for the renovations.
“We do not have funds set aside for these renovations, and we are seeking help to do them through the TRBs,” Bird said. “The Patterson lab renovations are a high priority for both the Provost and the President, for the University as a whole and for our teaching and research missions.”
Some legislators are already looking for other ways to fund the project. Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed Senate Bill 505 to fund Tuition Revenue Bonds from several universities across Texas, including the request for the Patterson labs.
“This includes a lot of projects, and some quite frankly are more timely or more important to do right now, and that would be a much smaller bill,” Seliger said. “But sometimes it helps if more people have a stake in a piece of legislation.”
Seliger said he is not certain if SB 505 will pass because of the high demand for legislative funds, but Texas colleges need funding regardless.
“We try to do as much good around the state as possible,” Seliger said. “In a growing state with a growing body of people in higher education, we need to address the future.”