Rhonda Weldon

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. 

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The prospect of self-driving cars is no longer an unattainable myth. According to a UT researcher, the once-deemed-unrealistic idea is now closer to being a present-day transportation option. 

The primary hindrances to making self-driving cars accessible to the public are in the hands of insurance companies and lawmakers, computer science professor Peter Stone said.

“The technology to make it possible is already there,” Stone said. “The insurance industry has to figure out what to do with it, the legal industry, and the cost has to be reasonable.” 

Stone, who studies artificial intelligence and machine learning, has created a full-size self-driving car in his lab.  

Once self-driving cars debut in the marketplace, which some automobile companies say will happen within the decade, more people will be eligible to “drive” them, according to Stone. The elderly, visually impaired and children would have access to a car that doesn’t require driving skills in order to transport them to their desired location, Stone said. 

Rhonda Weldon, director of communications for University operations, said UT Parking and Transportation Services recognizes this developing change in regards to self-driving cars but has not made any preparations for it. She said PTS will follow the same protocols employed when electric cars became more significant in the marketplace.

“We would make preparations for that type of item when it became a significant part of the automobile market,” Weldon said. “When electric cars became a more significant portion of the market, the University made changes that would accommodate that technology.”

Stone acknowledged the potential increase in cost because of technology used for self-driving cars but said the benefits include more than just a convenient, futuristic appeal. 

“The biggest advantage is that they’ll be safer,” Stone said. “Most accidents are caused by people, by human error. Those will be largely removed.”

With new transportation projects underway across the country, Stone said factoring in new technology such as self-driving cars during construction is essential to paving the way for an inevitable change in the automobile industry. 

French junior Rachel Krenek said she thinks having self-driving cars on a college campus like UT won’t make much of a difference for students.

“I think it’s a great idea, but, for my situation, it’s almost easier to take the bus,” Krenek said. “Assuming it costs money, I would definitely take the bus over self-driving.”

UTPD ordered an evacuation of Bass Concert Hall on Monday night because of suspicious activity and a bomb threat.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Bass Concert Hall and Texas Performing Arts Center were evacuated Monday after a bomb threat was reported to the Butler School of Music.

UTPD responded to a call that reported a bomb threat in the Butler School of Music area around 8:50 p.m. The Performing Arts Center and then the Bass Concert Hall were evacuated completely in response to the threat.

This event is the second threat to UT this semester — the first being to a food trailer in West Campus this February. There was also a threat in September 2012 resulting in the evacuation of the entire campus. In both cases, UTPD did not properly notify students. 

UTPD did not send out an email notifying students of Monday’s potential threat, but the official UTPD Twitter account sent out two tweets about the threat. 

Although both buildings were cleared for entry, there was confusion among UTPD regarding the location of the threat.

“The PAC was also evacuated,” UTPD Lt. Darrell Birdett said. “Originally, the PAC got evacuated, and then we came over here. There was some confusion, I think, about what building the actual threat came into.” 

Birdett said he was not sure how many people were evacuated in the threat, although UTPD mandated a full evacuation of all possible buildings.

Attendees of a concert at the Performing Arts Center were evacuated to the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for 30 minutes. James Ellerbock, an attendee and teacher at Bowie High School, said there were armed police officers on the scene.

“We were watching a show, and this woman came in and said there was a serious threat, and we were asked to leave,” Ellerbock said.

Students rehearsing and preforming in the Butler building were asked to leave, as well. While most were evacuated, UTPD failed to notify music performance sophomore Adam Lundell of the threat.

Lundell said he was rehearsing in a practice room when the evacuation began. He said a group message between other music students notified him of the threat. Lundell was in the building for about an hour before leaving.

“I texted one of my friends, and he said he told an officer what room I was in, and he came in, and [the officer] came in and got me,” Lundell said. 

Lundell said it was exciting at first,  but then he grew nervous because he knew he should not be in the building. 

“I was scared for a little bit, so I kept playing the piano to calm my nerves,” Lundell said.

Music studies junior Hugo Ramirez said he was asked to evacuate after a concert, but he was not too shocked by the threat because he was previously evacuated during a previous University bomb threat.

“At this point, this is, like, the second time that I’ve been here that this has happened,” Ramirez said. “I was a little surprised, but in the end I wasn’t too shocked.

Additional reporting by Wynne Davis

The Austin Police Bomb Squad investigates a bomb threat at Shawarma Republique food trailer on 24th Street. A man being treated for psychiatric disorder called in two bomb threats in the West Campus area Tuesday morning.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Updated Story: University administrators waited more than three hours to notify students of two bomb threats reported in West Campus on Tuesday morning.

When the University finally acknowledged the bomb threats, it was through a single tweet sent from the University’s official Twitter account. Students never received a campus-wide email or text alert about the bomb threats.

A man being treated for a psychiatric disorder made two bomb threats at 7:11 a.m. Tuesday — one to the North Austin Muslim Community Center at 11900 North Lamar Blvd. and another to the Shawarma Republique food trailer on 24th Street — prompting the Austin Police Department to block off the surrounding West Campus area, according to APD Cpl. David Boyd. 

An APD bomb squad officer attempts to find an entrance point for the bomb detection robot at the Shawarma Republique food trailer on 24th Street. Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

University police spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said APD did not immediately notify UTPD of the situation because there was no immediate threat to campus. 

“APD is the lead agency,” Weldon said. “In retrospect, probably, what we would have liked to have done is have sent out something that said avoid the area, but there was never a situation where APD was communicating any kind of danger to the safety of campus or to students beyond that immediate area.”

Weldon said UTPD Police Chief David Carter notified her around 9 a.m. of the threat. At that point, UTPD was on the scene to assist APD with
the investigation. 

“One of the reasons [APD did not contact us] is that [West Campus is] outside the Clery reporting area, which is where they normally would give us a call,” Weldon said.

Two police officers guard the blocked-off section of 24th Street on Tuesday morning. Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The Jeanne Clery Act requires universities to inform their campus communities about crimes happening on and near campus and publish an annual security report.

Boyd said officers investigated the neighborhood thoroughly but found no suspicious devices. He said APD is considering charging the man with making a “terroristic threat.”

“We take all threats seriously, so we had officers respond to both locations,” Boyd said. “We also dispatched our bomb technicians to both locations.”

Geology senior Julianne Milner said she thought students should have received an alert because West Campus is such a densely populated student neighborhood. 

“It’s really nerve-wracking and made me very nervous because it was targeting a West Campus area instead of a campus one,” Milner said. “We get notifications when there are [noteworthy] crimes in West Campus, so I don’t see why this doesn’t qualify as a threat to student safety.”

After they were informed of the situation, UTPD officers went to the area surrounding 24th Street to make sure no students were involved in the threats.

“This is outside their area, but, once they heard about it, there is concern for our students,” Weldon said. “UTPD went to the scene out of an abundance of caution to find out if this involved one of our students. It’s an area that’s outside of where they would normally do something like that.” 

The man who placed the bomb threats stayed at the community center’s mosque Monday night, according to APD senior officer Surei Scanlon. 

APD officers declined to release the man’s name or identify the hospital where he was being treated. 

Economics sophomore Kareem Abdi, who said he regularly attends services at the North Austin Muslim Community Center mosque, said that after recent events targeting Muslims across the country, this bomb threat brought Islamophobia close to home. 

“I feel like hatred is a common threat in the Muslim community,” Abdi said. “Now, it seems like another regular day when the community receives threats.”

A police officer removes caution tape from the area surrounding 24th Street after the bomb threat was lifted. Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Eleanor Dearman, Adam Hamze, Samantha Ketterer and Jackie Wang contributed to this report.

Original Story: A male being treated for psychiatric disorder made two bomb threats — one to the North Austin Muslim Community Center and another to the Shawarma Republique food trailer on 24th Street — early Tuesday morning, according to APD  Cpl. David Boyd. Boyd said officers investigated the neighborhood thoroughly but found no suspicious devices.

APD senior officer Surei Scanlon said the man who made the threats stayed at the community center's mosque Monday night. 

"The man was staying at the mosque overnight; they were providing him some refuge overnight by the mosque." Scanlon said. "I don't know his circumstances, and I don't know his identity."

According to Boyd, the man, who was in his early 50s, made the call to police at 7:11 a.m. Tuesday, claiming he had placed two bombs. APD officers declined to release the man's name or identify the hospital where he was being treated. Boyd said APD is considering charging the man with making a "terroristic threat." 

“We take all threats seriously, so we had officers respond to both locations,” Boyd said. “We also dispatched our bomb technicians to both locations.”

APD officers initially reported that a bomb threat had been made to West Campus hookah lounge Arab Cowboy but later retracted this statement. Arab Cowboy employees were evacuated during the investigation. 

APD officers, EMS vehicles and firefighters blocked off all traffic on 24th Street from Pearl to San Gabriel streets. During the investigation, officers also evacuated occupants from an apartment complex on 24th Street.

Burt's Bar-B-Que, on 24th and San Gabriel streets, was also evacuated, according to Gary Johnson, a Burt's employee. According to Johnson, police told bystanders they had spotted a suspicious vehicle in the area.

Economics sophomore Kareem Abdi, who said he regularly attends services at the North Austin Muslim Community Center mosque, said that after recent events targeting Muslims across the country, this bomb threat brought Islamophobia especially close to home. 

Last week, three Muslim students were killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and a man admitted to burning down a Houston mosque. Over the weekend, the Islamic School of Rhode Island was vandalized with slogans such as "Die Pig" and "F--- Allah Now This Is A Hate Crime."

“Why us? What did we do wrong? Why is this happening so often?” Abdi said. “I feel like hatred is a common threat in the Muslim community. Now, it seems like another regular day when the community receives threats.”

Neuroscience junior Sahare Wazirali, who lives in West Campus, said she was frustrated she had not received information from APD or UTPD over the course of the investigation.

"My friend texted me saying there's a bomb threat near my apartment," Wazirali said. "I didn't get an email from APD or UT or anything."

Follow @thedailytexan online for more information.

Eleanor Dearman, Adam Hamze, Samantha Ketterer and Jackie Wang contributed to this report.

A man died after falling from the San Antonio parking garage early Friday morning, according to UTPD spokesperson Rhonda Weldon.

Weldon said UTPD received a call about the incident around 12:10 a.m., and when officers arrived, the man was pronounced dead at the scene. According to Weldon, officers estimate the man fell approximately 70 feet from the garage. Weldon said the man was not affiliated with the University. 

UTPD is still investigating the incident, Weldon said. 

"We don't have any witnesses, so we are unable to determine the circumstances of the fall at this time," Weldon said. 

UTPD also investigated another incident involving a fall from the garage Sept. 24. According to Weldon, UTPD has found no link between the two incidents. 

UTPD officers arrested a man across from campus on Guadalupe Street on Thursday afternoon after a student reported an assault.

The man was arrested after a student reported the man had been yelling at her on the street while pointing a knife in her direction. UTPD said the incident was not the first time officers had dealt with the individual, but it was the first time the individual had used a weapon.

UTPD spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said the department commends the student for reporting the incident.

“Any time a student feels threatened or observes strange or unusual behavior, the police should be called,” Weldon said.

The man was charged with aggravated assault and if convicted could face two to 20 years in prison.

Significant traffic changes and delays will result from the closure of Red River Street on April 12 and preparatory roadwork on 15th Street beginning March 30, according to the University’s Parking and Transportation Services.

Red River will close in order to be realigned for the Dell Medical School Project. The affected section of Red River, from 15th Street to MLK Boulevard, is scheduled to reopen in January. According to a University email, MLK Boulevard and Trinity Street will also experience “significant changes to traffic patterns and flow.”

UT spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said Parking and Transportation Services has already made arrangements with the different stakeholder groups in the area of campus where Red River is closing.

“We’ve done some replacement parking for spaces in [Longhorn] Lot 108,” Weldon said. “We will allow for deliveries down Red River and emergency vehicles whenever necessary [during the closure]. 15th Street is going to change to allow for an emergency room entrance for Seton [Medical Center].”

The Frank Erwin Center, located on Red River Street, will alter parking to facilitate those attending events at the center, according to Weldon.

“Many of their patrons will park in the Trinity Garage and state garages off of Trinity,” Weldon said. “We plan to use directional signage that assists Erwin Center patrons with wayfinding [to the center], and those will go up on construction fences once they’re erected.”

Capital Metro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said CapMetro will also have to implement changes due to the street closure and roadwork.

“Capital Metro will [create] detours around the affected streets when closures begin,” Ayala said. “We will post signage at stops indicating where riders should catch their bus. As with any street closure, we assess the affected area and determine where service can be rerouted with the same area.”

Construction workers remove one of the “Three Muses” statues located in Centennial Park on Red River Street on Monday morning.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Charles Umlauf’s “Three Muses” sculptures received a new temporary home Monday after being removed from Centennial Park on Red River Street to make way for the construction of the Dell Medical School.

The sculptures were moved to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, where they will undergo restoration until being moved back to campus in 2016, the scheduled completion year for the medical school.

University Operations spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said the construction plans include straightening out Red River Street, while parts of the school will be built over a section of the Frank Erwin Center’s parking lot and Centennial Park, where an underground time capsule is also located.

“[The time capsule] will have to be preserved,” Weldon said. “All of this is going to somehow be incorporated back into the medical district when it’s complete.”

Robert Boland, business manager for Vault Fine Arts Services, the company in charge of transporting the sculptures to the museum, said the moving process involved separating the figures from the external portion of the base, securing them to boards and wrapping each sculpture to ensure that their surfaces are protected. According to Boland, it is a simple method.

“You have to know what you’re moving and how it’s built, [especially] the weight-balance,” Boland said. “I guess it’s more technical than anything.”

Weldon said the University has not made the decision as to where the sculptures will reside at the completed medical school. Museum curator Katie Robinson said she hopes Umlauf’s work will be placed in an area away from trees, where it can be easily seen by the public.

“The trees encourage birds, and guano — [bird droppings] — is really damaging to the surface,” Robinson said. “We would like to get them out into a place where we could keep the [protective] wax on.”

Umlauf created the muses, inspired by Greek mythology, in 1963 while he was an art professor at the University. According to Robinson, the sculptures were originally on the roof of what is now the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center but were moved to Centennial Park in 1984. Since then, people have vandalized the sculptures by doing the makeup of the Muses and painting their nails.

“We want people to know not just about Umlauf’s sculptures, but that all sculpture and all art has a life and can be damaged and needs to be cared for,” Robinson said.

Portions of Red River Street will close between March and October 2014 for street realignment, which will allow Seton Healthcare Family to build a teaching hospital on an enlarged tract of land, meant to accompany the future Dell Medical Center.

Because the University needs more room than it currently has for the medical district, which is projected to be more than 1 million square feet with the addition of the teaching hospital, the city agreed in August to reroute Red River Street, city spokesperson Clark Patterson said.

The curved portion of Red River Street near 15th Street will be vacated by the city in exchange for University land east of the street, Patterson said. This will extend Red River Street to East 15th Street.

At a UT System Board of Regents meeting in May, architecture professor Lawrence Speck said the realignment would allow for a more practical building structure.

“[Red River Street] creates strangely shaped parcels of land, where the grid [that used to be in place] made for much more sensible parcels,” Speck said.

The road extension, utilities, landscaping and other preparations are projected to cost $16.5 million, according to Dell Medical School preliminary documents.

The medical school, scheduled to begin construction in April 2014, will be built on land that is currently Centennial Park, said Rhonda Weldon, director of communications. Part of this land is also a Frank Erwin Center parking lot and another part is University property east of Waller Creek.

Because the medical school’s construction will take away parking from the Erwin Center, there will be a parking lot in the medical campus area to make up for this,
Weldon said.

The University is leasing the land to Central Health, a governmental entity that maintains health care facilities in Central Texas, which will in turn sublease to Seton, said Florence Mayne, executive director of real estate for the UT System. Because the land is zoned for various uses, including multi-family, general commercial services and general office uses, the UT System is requesting that the city change the zoning to public.

“[The University] just came in and said, rather than have all this various zoning, which also gives you various development standards, we’ll just change it all to [Category P],” Paterson said. “We’ll be under one big umbrella.”

Weldon said the University is working to ensure construction will not affect Waller Creek, which runs through Centennial Park.

“The university plans to improve Waller Creek … sure up banks, manage health of vegetation and water,” Weldon said. “We see Waller Creek as a natural amenity, an asset to continuing the pedestrian experience we already have on campus.”

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The University’s lease extension with the U.S. Postal Service shows the variations in UT’s leasing agreements with non-University entities.

Late last month, the Postal Service extended its lease with the University through February 2016, for which it will pay an annual fee of $1.

Postal Service spokesman Sam Bolen said the low price of the lease is because the post office provides a public service to the campus and surrounding community. The Postal Service has similar leasing agreements with both profit and nonprofit organizations.

“It varies by institution,” Bolen said. “Some universities have their own mail operations, some of them contract it out, some of them do it in-house. For schools that are really large like the University of Texas, our presence on campus [was] requested roughly 50 years ago.”

Campus Real Estate Director Amy Wanamaker said the lease pricing has historically always been $1 annually. The University does not expect the extension to affect financial aspects of the lease.

The public services lease held by the Postal Service is uncommon for the University and greatly differs from the contractual agreements between food service vendors and University Unions, which includes deals with Wendy’s, Starbucks and Chik-Fil-A among other outlets. University Unions Executive Director Andy Smith said these contracts operate on a revenue share determined by the amount of total income generated.

“Each of these contracts, generally speaking, are configured differently but none of them are leases of space,” Smith said. “Sometimes [the vendors] are under a straight percentage and then there are times where the percentage goes up or down as you reach certain trigger figures in the gross sales. So it might be 10 percent on the first 1.5 million and then after that it might be 12 percent between that number and another trigger number.”

The post office has maintained its location in the West Mall Office Building since 1962, according to archived blueprints of the University building. Though alternative places for the relocation of the on-campus branch had been considered in meetings between the University and the Postal Service, University Operations spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said the extension times were not to give the service time to seek out a new home.

“It is my understanding that it’s always been, for those extension periods, that we were going to assess what the needs of the campus were versus what services were being provided,” Weldon said.

Weldon said the University has not been in contact with delivery service companies such as UPS Inc. or FedEx regarding the West Mall Building space or future partnerships, but available space on campus is always desirable.

“When space becomes available at the University, there is always an academic or research entity interested in making use of it,” Weldon said. “I am not personally aware of any specific entities interested in that space.”

Weldon said there are no plans to lease the space after the 2016 lease expires.

“If the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t occupy the space, then that space would be repurposed for academic or research use,” Weldon said.

Weldon said the revaluation of campus mailing services did not come as a result of budget constraints.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with recent University budget cuts because [the revaluation of campus mailing services] doesn’t have anything to do with University Operations’ budget,” Weldon said. “Our commitment is to continue to meet the mail service needs of the campus community so we have to figure out how to do that through 2016 and beyond.”