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1:37 pm CST - November 25, 2013

Posted under On The Record

Edinburg City Leaders on Hand for Distribution of $124 Million


By David A. Díaz - Legislative Media

First Major Phase of Upcoming University of Texas Medical School in Edinburg

STX-Hispanic-LeadersTexas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – Edinburg leaders, along with state legislators and top officials with The University of Texas System, were on hand in Harlingen at the UT Regional Academic Health Center on Wednesday, November 20, to participate in the symbolic distribution of almost $200 million for higher education in the Valley, including $124 million that will be used for the first major phase of a UT medical school in Edinburg.

“This is just the beginning. The taps have been opened,” said Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr., who attended the mid-afternoon gathering. “This is such great progress for us. We know this is going to happen. And now, we start touching and feeling something solid and concrete. You know that we’re there, or getting there to that point of completion. We’re excited.”

Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost for the University of  Texas-Pan American, also serves as a member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) Board of Directors, also participated in the public event.

“It’s incredible. This is an opportunity to bring new students to the Rio Grande Valley, specifically to Edinburg, to ensure that they get an excellent education here,” Rodríguez said. “In addition, we know that students that get medical degrees in a certain region, and do their medical residencies in a certain region, close to three-quarters of them remain in that region. So that means more doctors for the Rio Grande Valley.”

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The first two years of medical school will take place in Edinburg, with the third and fourth years of education to be conducted at the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen. Medical education residencies, which usually involve another three years of training in a medical specialty, will take place in hospitals throughout the Valley.

UT System Board of Regents Vice Chairman Gene Powell of San Antonio, formerly of Weslaco, and Regent Ernesto Aliseda of McAllen ceremonially presented a $196 million Permanent University Fund (PUF) check to the presidents of The University of Texas at Brownsville and UT-Pan American in Edinburg.

“These funds represent the fuel that will begin to power the economic engine that will drive South Texas into the future,” said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “This will unquestionably be the first of many distributions from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) which South Texas has long sought, more so deserved, and is finally receiving, thanks to decades of work by selfless leaders who dared to dream what has become a reality.”

PUF is a public permanent endowment established in 1876 by the Texas Constitution and draws revenues from gas, oil, and land leases from state land to support members of The University of Texas System and Texas A&M University System. But up until this year, state law did not allow UTB and UTPA to access PUF for major construction projects

That was changed earlier this year by Senate Bill 24, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which authorized the merger of UT-Pan American and UT Brownsville, and sped up the planned creation of a UT medical school in the Valley, which will include a major campus in Edinburg by the UTPA campus. SB 24 allowed the new university system to receive money from the PUF.

In addition to Canales, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Robert “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, were House cosponsors of SB 24.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, were among the joint authors of SB 24.

The money was officially approved by the Board of Regents on Thursday, November 14, and is the first ever to be awarded to the South Texas institutions and the first for the new university. The first freshman class will begin at the yet to be named university in fall 2015.

The new university is expected to offer expanded learning and research opportunities, boost the quality of life, attract new businesses and fill critical needs in the health care field.

As part of the $124 million coming to the UT System in Edinburg, $70 million will be used to build an addition to the existing Science Building at UTPA, along with the construction of the inaugural $54 million UT medical school building.  The medical school building will be located next to the existing UT Regional Academic Health Center Research Division.

The UT medical school building will be built by Schunior Street, immediately north of the UT Regional Academic Health Medical Research Facility,

The Science Building is vital since it will provide the academic skills, equipment, and laboratories to prepare UTPA students to attend and succeed in the planned UT medical school in Edinburg, scheduled to open in Summer/Fall 2016.

“The facilities will provide the research experience that they need, with the expectation that our students will continue through a number of pre-med programs needed to apply to medical school here, and medical schools throughout the country,” UTPA’s Provost Rodríguez explained. “The idea is to get these folks trained, have them get their M.D.s, and return to the Rio Grande Valley, or stay in the Rio Grande Valley to provide the healthcare needs of our population.

The Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem, an alumnus of UT-Pan American, described the latest developments as being “just amazing” for the Edinburg campus, which for the Fall 2013 semester set a record enrollment of more than 20,000 students.

“When I went to school there were 7,00 students on campus and we thought that was huge, but it’s so beautiful to see,” Longoria said. “The City of Edinburg is going to benefit. There are so many things – the growth, the people that it is going to bring to our community, areas are going to continue to grow. I think more and more rooftops are going to be built, jobs are going be created, all these things are going happen all around the university.

UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., Texas legislators and community leaders from throughout the Rio Grande Valley also took part in the event.

“It is because of the leadership of Gene Powell and the understanding that The University of Texas System needed to plant a larger flag in South Texas and to understand this great region of the state needs to have a research university,” said Cigarroa about the work that went into making south Texas PUF money a reality.

Powell said the idea for the unified university came up during a late night telephone conversation with Cigarroa in October 2012. He said all of the work that went into creating the university and securing funding was a strong team effort.

“I was fortunate to be chairman (of the UT System Board of Regents) when it happened,” said Powell.

The UT Board of Regents announced their idea in December 2012 to merge the universities and create four-year medical school. The new university and medical school will combine the talents, assets of UTB, UTPA and the RAHC.

Gov. Rick Perry used part of his State of the State address to call for the 83rd Texas Legislature to pass legislation creating the new university and granting access to this important funding. The Legislature successfully passed a merger bill this spring.

“Today, the students of south Texas are able to stay closer to home to earn their college degrees,” Perry told legislators in January. “This area of the state is crucial to our state’s future, and our investment in the children of south Texas will be returned a thousand-fold.”

campaign is underway to seek community input on the new name of the institution until Friday, December 6. The Board of Regents is expected to decide the new university’s new name by the end of the year. Also, a search advisory committee is recruiting and reviewing candidates to serve as president of the new university.

The new university is expected to offer expanded learning and research opportunities, boost the quality of life, attract new businesses and fill critical needs in the health care field.

••••••

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Jaime A. Rodríguez, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: www.EdbgCityLimits.com  

 

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