System administration

Photo Credit: UT System | Daily Texan Staff

Update (Aug. 21): The UT System Board of Regents approved the design changes to the new System administration building and the total project cost increase on Thursday.

Original Story (Aug. 20): After lengthy discussion, the UT System Board of Regents Facilities Planning and Construction Committee approved design changes to the proposed new System administration building, which would increase the total project cost to $133.1 million.

The item is subject to full boards approval on Thursday.

The System currently operates out of five buildings. By consolidating operations into one building, the System anticipates saving between $2 million and $6 million per year, which can be redirected toward “student success.”

If we can save money and redirect that to the missions of our campuses, that's exceedingly important,” Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said.

Expected to be completed in 2017, the new building will be located on Seventh Street between Colorado and Lavaca streets, across from Ashbel Smith Hall, which houses the current board meeting room.

The project was first approved in 2012 with a project cost of more $102.4 million. The proposed design changes increases the number of floors from 15 to 19 and the total square footage from 258,500 to 342,200.

The building will be constructed according to commercial design standards with the intention that 30 percent of it will be leased to outside tenants and 70 percent will haven an "open space" office design.

Regent Gene Powell brought up several concerns with the design, including the amount of open space, the new board meeting room and the pavement size at the main entrance.

Powell recommended the committee review the building’s design over the next few weeks before the item reaches the full board.

“I think this a very important project, and I think its one we’ve got to get right,” Powell said. “I’m not trying to delay the building or stop the building. I’m for the project.”

After Michael O’Donnell, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning and construction, warned the total project cost could increase if put on hold, the committee agreed to approve the project contingent on Powell’s concerns being addressed in the coming weeks.

UT architecture professor Larry Speck, who is also an architect at the firm designing the building, told the committee that the new building’s design will be practical and sensible.

“This is, as far as I can tell, a pretty bold step for the System,” Speck said.

Speck also said the design of the board meeting room in the new building will also be more efficient than the one currently used, which boasts large chandeliers.

I do hope that we auction off these golden chandeliers and use the money for student scholarships,” Regent Alex Cranberg said.

Lawmakers attempt to limit UT System Board of Regents through budget measures

Texas lawmakers took steps Thursday to prevent the UT System Board of Regents from conducting another investigation into the UT Law School Foundation by prohibiting regents’ from spending money on the investigation.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and serves on a joint committee to investigate regents’ governance methods, filed a series of amendment to limit the UT System’s spending power.

One amendment would prevent the System administration from using any of the $23.5 million in proposed state funds for the upcoming biennium to pay for investigations into individual institutions within the system and the administrations of those institutions. It would also prevent the System from spending to request open records from those institutions.

In 2011, President William Powers Jr. instructed Larry Sager, then dean of the School of Law and current faculty member, to resign as dean after Sager received a forgivable loan of $500,000 from the foundation. Last week, the regents voted 4-3 to conduct an additional external review of the foundation. The System would spend about $500,000 toward the investigation.

An internal audit of the foundation conducted by Barry Burgdorf, UT System general counsel who resigned earlier this month, found the loan was awarded inappropriately. The attorney general’s office largely concurred with the report’s findings.

The amendment would also require the System to submit an annual report to Gov. Rick Perry’s office and the Legislative Budget Board detailing the System’s investigations into individual institutions and their administrations. The System would have to list the intent of the investigation, evidence to justify conducting the investigation, the cost of the investigation and the findings of the investigation.

An additional amendment, co-filed with state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who also serves on the joint committee, would trust the System’s $23.5 million to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The coordinating board would transfer those funds back to the System pending approval from the Legislative Budget Board and Gov. Rick Perry’s office.

Another amendment would limit the System administration’s share of revenue from the Permanent University Fund, a state endowment that funds the UT and Texas A&M University Systems that typically funds infrastructure and construction projects. However, the amendment would allow UT to continue accessing the fund.

A final amendment prevents the System from paying for transportation and lodging of regents who have not been confirmed by the Senate.

The amendments follow a week of criticism by lawmakers over the regents’ decision to conduct the additional investigation.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that if regents decided to conduct a “duplicative investigation,” they should use Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office to prevent spending additional tax dollars. A letter signed by 18 senators sent to board Chairman Gene Powell on Tuesday asked the board to seek the attorney general’s assistance if regents insisted on continuing what the senators called “an unnecessary probe.”

Powell responded in a letter Wednesday and said the board’s General Counsel Francie Frederick informed the attorney general’s office of the board’s possible actions prior to last week’s meeting. He said Frederick would brief Abbott and his first assistant Daniel Hodge if the board decided to investigate the foundation further.