South Texas Center Facility Construction Underway in McAllen
Under a financial agreement with the City of McAllen, construction has begun on a 23,000-square-foot facility for The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center’s South Texas Center. The facility is being made possible by a unique funding structure whereby the City of McAllen is having the building constructed to the specifications of The Texas A&M University System, and then will sell the facility to the A&M System on completion of construction.
McAllen is the first community in Texas that has embarked on such a venture that will bring a permanent higher education facility to the city. The project, developed by A&M Health Science Center staff in McAllen and College Station with City of McAllen officials, promotes local financing and local competitive construction contractors and is designed to have a positive impact on the local work force and business community. In addition, the facility will provide necessary space for lab, offices, classroom and conference areas so that the A&M Health Science Center can develop a wide range of health training, clinical research, medical education, community medicine and public health programs with local partners.
A&M Health Science Center President and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Nancy W. Dickey, M.D., and Elvin Smith, Ph.D., executive vice president of the health science center, will oversee the operation of the South Texas Center. “House Bill 910 is specific and mandates the development of a health science center facility promoting a wide range of programmatic goals for the South Texas border region. This facility will provide the infrastructure necessary to expand our current programs in the region,” stated Dr. Smith. Dr. Dickey said, “We are very pleased to have the support of the City of McAllen, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Legislators and a strong working relationship with our local partners in this unique and challenging opportunity for the Health Science Center to expand regionally.”
House Bill 910 was authored during the last legislative session by State Representative Roberto Gutierrez, along with co-sponsors Representative Kino Flores, Representative Mike Wise and Senator-Elect Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa from the House of Representatives. Concurrently, the bill was sponsored in the Texas Senate by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.
The A&M Health Science Center announced an expansion of its presence in the Lower Rio Grande Valley recently to complement the current programs of its initial component program, the School of Rural Public Health. This school offers the Master of Public Health Degree, oversees the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Project with local partners, and is conducting a community assessment project. With a complement of seven faculty and staff located at the Kerria Plaza building, the School of Rural Public Health, along with the A&M Health Science Center staff at El Milagro Clinic, will relocate its programs to the new South Texas Center facility when it is completed.
“McAllen is fortunate to offer Rio Grande Valley students better opportunities in furthering higher education at South Texas Community College, and now the newest facility of the A&M Health Science Center. The South Texas Center will provide a wide range of programs in the health fields not currently available in McAllen. Every student will have a greater chance to obtain educational opportunities as these new programs expand,” said Rep. Gutierrez.
“The legislative funding for the A&M Health Science Center’s South Texas Center was a major challenge due to funding limitations. It was the strong support of the Valley Legislators working together that made House Bill 910 a reality. As one of the co-sponsors and strong supporters of this legislative effort in Austin in the House of Representatives, along with the bill’s author, Rep. Roberto Gutierrez, Senator-Elect Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa and others, I am very pleased with the results of our legislative efforts. As the result of this legislation, we have created the opportunity for the construction of a permanent Health Science Center, South Texas Center facility in McAllen. Credit for developing this important next step toward a permanent campus here is due to the vision of the City of McAllen officials and the A&M Health Science Center staff here in McAllen and in College Station. This is an example of what can be done through regional cooperation, and I am pleased to have been a part of this effort,” stated Representative Flores.
“The more academic resources that are offered to the border region, the greater the opportunity for our families and young people to take part in the educational process enjoyed by most of the rest of the state. For that reason, our existing academic programs and our students here will all benefit, and should welcome the addition of our newest academic program, the A&M Health Science Center’s South Texas Center in McAllen,” stated State Representative Aaron Pena.
Concerning the South Texas Center facility, McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo said, “We are very proud to partner with The Texas A&M University System to build a state-of-the-art health science center in the South Texas region. As a progressive city in the state, we believe agreements like this make us viable to institutions that are planning to build in the future. The McAllen Plan is a cooperative effort that shows the commitment by our community for a better way of life.” Mayor Montalvo added, “Improving health care in our area is vital because South Texas is growing at a phenomenal pace.”
“This financing structure is now being examined as a possible funding mechanism for other state projects in Texas as a acost-effective, time saving and efficient community partnership,” stated Wayne Showers, vice chairman emeritus of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.
Under the “McAllen plan,” the A&M System is paying the interest on the project’s financing, while McAllen has donated the valuable land necessary for the South Texas Center facility to be built within the city’s hospital hub area. The A&M Health Science Center will not provide direct medical services in this facility, but will work closely with the medical community and hospitals. The building’s location, adjacent to the El Milagro Clinic, will help in the South Texas Center’s pursuit of ongoing state and federally funded grant-related projects in conjunction with that community clinic.
“For those of us who have been working for an A&M presence in McAllen for the past six and a half years, this is truly a dream come true, that will benefit the entire Rio Grande Valley and all of South Texas,” said Dr. Ramiro Casso, a McAllen retired family physician and a clinical consultant for the A&M Health Science Center, South Texas Center, and Texas A&M University alumnus, class of 1943.
The architect for the project is Kell Munoz Architects in McAllen. The contractor selected (through a competitive city bid process) is Descon Construction Company, which is a well-known construction company with headquarters in McAllen. Construction is expected to take nine months, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony slated for September 2003.
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.