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SHSU Master Plan good for students, hindered by Legislature

Web Editor

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 23:02

There are many times where Sam Houston State University and I haven’t gotten along over the past three and a half years. The Master Plan – SHSU’s ideal schedule of where the school should be by 2020 - isn’t one of them, though.

The Houstonian recently published an article noting that this year should be the final year in Phase One, which started in 2008. The problem is that we aren’t close to finishing. As Hannah Zedeker reported, the university has yet to complete nearly all of the planned buildings.

Lone Star Hall, Old Main Market, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Building, The Woodlands Center, the Gaertner Performing Arts Center, and the demolition of Smith-Kirkley and King Halls have already been completed, but aren’t new to the Master Plan. They were a part of the 2008 plan before the 2012 revision.

The Student Health and Counseling Center is the only building being worked on. This leaves the Lowman Student Center expansion, athletics event center and press box, nursing and biology building, agriculture and engineering building, new art building, south residential district, and dining facilities to be done.

Every fall semester SHSU breaks its previous enrollment record (albeit a lot of growth is online.) With more students comes the need for more space to teach those students. Although the university isn’t screaming to have more classroom space, they’ll eventually need it. The Master Plan future-proofs the campus and allows the administration to maintain its major selling point of having smaller classes.

Moreover, the campus desperately needs lab space. Provost Jaimie Hebert said in an interview that campus science lab space is approaching maximum capacity. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has been pushing for more STEM-focused facilities, which SHSU has tried to accomplish.

Nursing chair Anne Stiles, Ph.D., said in a previous Houstonian article that the nursing department can’t accept more people into the program because of space – despite the waiting list. Agriculture chair Stanley Kelley, Ph.D., said they’ve been waiting through a “temporary” relocation period for 15 years that will inhibit any technology and engineering initiatives.

And, seriously? The art department facilities are a joke. I walked around the facilities with art chair Michael Henderson, who could literally push on a wall that exposed the outside. There isn’t proper ventilation in some areas as well as a “photography classroom” that is literally a tiny room with blue chairs lining the wall.

The Master Plan fixes all of those issues and would tremendously improve student quality of life, but it does have its flaws. One of the major issues that should be tackled is parking. Now before you go saying that I’m beating a dead horse, the university says that we have enough parking and that they’re planning on opening more spaces in the future.

While this is true, the Master Plan shows 590 of those spaces wouldn’t be within a five-minute walking distance from the center of campus. In addition, the major parking expansions are parking garages that would add 1,500 spaces – which unless some policies change, students would likely be on the hook for increased parking fees. In order to build new buildings, they’d have to cut out existing parking and add more.

However, there are roughly 7,800 parking spaces now and about 8,600 in the final version of the plan. But because about 2,100 aren’t easily accessed with traditional parking passes or are far away, students will lose 300 spaces that are in place now. It also doesn’t address the issue of growing campus populations when we’ll need more parking.

But overall, the Master Plan shows that the university is aware and attempts to be aggressive in combating the problems facing our academics. They should be commended for this.

Unfortunately the administration is hamstrung by the Texas Legislature, which denied all Texas public universities the money they needed to complete capital improvement projects.

They left the universities bent over a rail waiting for money to pop out of the ground. This gives schools two options for academic buildings: Increase tuition a drastic amount, or get donations. Neither of these is a fiscally responsible choice.

Even if SHSU increased tuition, the increased revenue should be used to hire full-time, tenure-track faculty instead of buildings.

It’s kind of a catch-22 because Texas effectively has no money to divvy out to almost anything because they have the lowest per-capita spending of any state. Therefore the Legislature has to choose what’s important in that cycle. Opponents of the funding bill said institutions need to be “creative and proactive in funding capital projects,” according to the House Research Organization. As if schools like SHSU and others with explosive populations aren’t being creative trying to make it day to day.

Either the Legislature needs to approve revenue bonds for new buildings or give schools the magic-money-making-wand it thinks exists.

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Stephen Green
Tue Feb 4 2014 17:01
That's not the way it was explained to me, but you're probably right. Nonetheless, no matter if every single thing was sent to THECB and then to the Legislature, the Legislature wouldn't have approved it. Not approving ANY TRBs is still an issue. SHSU should have definitely sent forth more than two buildings, however the two they sent are the biggest need we have right now. The lab space on campus is shrinking and required in the core curriculum, which can cause problems down the road.

Thanks for the info. I don't mind being wrong/half-wrong if I learn something new!

Tue Feb 4 2014 14:24
Once again, you are mistaken. In order to receive tuition revenue bond assistance, you have to apply to the THECB, and give specific evidence of what your particular institutions needs are, and what you would do with the funds. The THECB them ranks these, and sends their recommendation on to the legislature. As you can clearly see on the THECB website, SHSU only applied for two projects for the 83rd session. As a result, even if Sam Houston received everything it applied for, it would have had no major result on the vast majority of issues you present in the article.

Stephen Green
Tue Feb 4 2014 13:40
From what I've read from TSUS documents that outline what we need TRB and other funding for, SHSU has made clear what they need TRB funding for. It's true that only those two buildings made it to a bill (the ag building in the Senate bill and the chem building in the House version), but that's up to the Leg to decide what gets put in the bill. TSUS, THECB and the university presidents all sit down with the higher ed committee to discuss what they need, which SHSU - again according to documents I've seen - needs a lot.

However, most of these discussions happen behind closed doors and not public so we can assume either the systems aren't pushing very hard, or the Legislature really hates TRBs, which is pretty obvious as you said they didn't fund any since 2006. Therefore it's possible that the university or system never mentioned our other buildings we need, but from every other TRB that would've been funded, they only put one building per campus in each bill.

The status quo the way it is, the university relies on TRB funding because the lack of extra tuition revenue due to the Hazlewood and Hazlewood Legacy unfunded mandates, as well as the struggle to hire more tenure-track faculty with Ph.Ds. They in a sense HAVE to rely on TRBs and donations until there is a more fiscally stable (keyword here is stable) way of financing building construction. The university's contingency plan has been to increase donation drives with alumni, but they can only be bled dry so much. It doesn't help with the hundreds of millions of dollars we need.

So, the universities and systems are totally free of blame because they - as you said - could find another way. However, they are still hamstrung by the lack of funding from the state who wants them to have low tuition yet expects them to keep expanding faculty numbers and facilities. It makes no sense in the status quo. There's no money anywhere but donors pockets.

Tue Feb 4 2014 12:58
While your article is good, you seem to be misled on several important facts. While it is true that the Texas Legislature did not authorize funds for tuition revenue bonds during the 83rd legislative session, they have not done so since 2006. After seven years of the same result, you would think that the University would have some type of contingency plan in place. However, even if the bonds would have been authorized, many of the projects you mention would not have been effected or funded. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (which recommends the specific projects to be funded) SHSU only submitted 2 projects for TRB funding during the 83rd session: $9,800,000 for the construction of an Agriculture Engineering Technology Building, and $37,500,000 for the construction of a Biology, Nursing and Allied Health Building. As a result, even if the legislature would have approved the bonds, and the THECB would have approved them, and those recommendations were ultimately accepted, the vast majority of the projects in the master plan, including new residence halls, the new LSC, additional parking, and the new stadium complex would have been completely unaffected. While the Texas Legislature does share some of the blame, it is completely misleading to claim that they are hamstringing the University.

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