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Swing doors open wide for Round Rock's first university


Texas State opens window to future, including possibility of on-campus hospital

Austin-American Statesman (08/24/2005)
By Camille Wheeler

ROUND ROCK—Swing the doors open wide.

With higher education officials and state and city leaders expected to be on hand, Texas State University's new Round Rock campus will open today to a projected fall enrollment of 3,200 students.

Workers rushed to complete final details Tuesday as they painted the shafts for the glass elevators. But the four-story Avery Building, the sole classroom facility for Texas State University's Round Rock Higher Education Center this year, is ready for business.

Classes at Texas State's campuses in Round Rock and San Marcos officially begin today. Most Central Texas institutions, including the University of Texas, Austin Community College and St. Edward's University, start next week.

Williamson County's only four-year public university offers master's and bachelor's degrees from Texas State and associate's degrees from Austin Community College. It provides relief for Texas State's crowded San Marcos campus. It will help accommodate a state higher education plan that calls for an additional 50,000 students in Central Texas by 2015.

And it honors the John Avery family and its Swedish heritage with a namesake building.

The campus is a huge step in the county's emergence from Austin's and Travis County's shadows to become a recognized player in higher education.

But it has even greater potential: By decade's end, the northeast Round Rock campus could offer on-site hospital training and nursing degree programs, a rarity among Texas institutions. Officials say the campus could create a new higher education model for the region.

"In the jargon of the Round Rock Express, it would be a grand-slam home run," said Lamar Urbanovsky, vice chancellor of planning and construction for the Texas State University System. "It's going to happen eventually."

The Texas State University System would accomplish that goal in conjunction with the Seton Healthcare Network, which plans to build a hospital next door to the Round Rock campus. If state funding is approved, the university eventually will add nursing to its Round Rock curriculum.

"In terms of the culture of the campus, we want it to be as robust in experience for students as it is in San Marcos," said Texas State President Denise Trauth.

Built by many hands
Many hands built Round Rock's new university.

The Avery family donated 101 acres for the campus. Businessman Mike Swayze, the first to launch efforts to bring a college here, and city leaders lobbied state lawmakers. And Mayor Nyle Maxwell helped push through a $27 million legislative package spearheaded by Rep., Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, and Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, for the building.

The rest is history, considering that the Averys' total 1,200-acre tract at Chandler Road and FM 1460 has been in the family more than 150 years.

Texas State considered several sites in the Round Rock area.

"None of the others were willing to give up land for free," Swayze said. "That was the major selling point with the Legislature."

In 1854, the Averys' Swedish ancestors, Arvid and Anna Lena Nelson, sailed to Texas and dug their roots into Williamson County farmland.

John Avery is an Austin real estate lawyer who's working with his older brother, Charles, to develop a master plan of mixed office, retail and residential uses around the campus.

John Avery said his family stands to benefit financially from development around the campus. He declined to elaborate, but county appraisal records show 900 acres of family-owned land along FM 1460 in Round Rock valued at more than $22 million. That value will increase as the land is zoned for development.

"The money is not what drives us as a family," Avery said. "It's been a difficult decision for us to decide what to do with this property. The idea of education and medical seemed like an appropriate fit for a piece of land that's been treated with respect for a long time."

Throw in the chase for who will land Concordia University's landlocked Central Austin campus, and the suspense rises over just how big this higher education complex could become. Avery is proposing to sell Concordia 75 acres just south of Texas State and has met with officials with the YMCA of Greater Williamson County over an idea to build a facility nearby.

Charles Avery is drawing on his construction management background to help guide the plan, including about 73 acres under contract with Seton.

In what Texas State officials call a rare marriage between a university and private citizen, John Avery had a say in the building's outside look: limestone on the bottom, reddish-orange brick on the sides and a pitched copper roof that extends past the building and is slowly, naturally, acquiring a green patina.

Over the past three years, John Avery and his wife, Judy, toured about 30 college campuses in a dozen states in search of architectural themes for the campus's future.

"We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly," he said.

In 2003, Trauth and Avery flew to Beaumont and Orange in Urbanovsky's private plane. There, they studied the design of new system facilities.

Trauth emphasized that many officials designed the Avery Building. "It was very collaborative," she said. "Ultimately, we wanted the whole Avery family to be happy."

Enrollment could double
In just five years, Texas State officials anticipate that the Round Rock campus's enrollment, including the number of ACC students, will double.

"We could not do that in just one building," Executive Director Edna Rehbein said, explaining that the Avery Building can accommodate about 3,500 students. "It would mean using every hour of the day."

Texas State's campus will expand around the Avery Building, which faces north, toward Chandler Road and the fields beyond in all directions that were farmed by Swedish immigrants.

Avery's not content to stop with what's on his family's land at Chandler Road and FM 1460.

He and ACC President Steve Kinslow are discussing the possibility of someday building a separate ACC campus on Avery family land, just west of the new campus. That would require an election to create a new taxing district.

"I know a lot of people who postpone doing things, thinking, 'Well, when I get to be 65, I'll do this, when I have time,' " said Avery, 59. "Sometimes, you wait too long."

Texas State's new campus has a long way to grow, Trauth said, considering that the Avery Building, with parking, takes up24 acres of the 101-acre tract.

New buildings hinge on the approval of more tuition revenue bonds from state lawmakers, whose next regular session is in 2007. Tuition revenue bonds are repaid using tuition.

"My hope is that we can add a building every two years for the foreseeable future until we build out a complete campus," Trauth said. "There's no closure here."

Round Rock Higher Education Center
Opens: Today
Where: 1555 Chandler Road

Participating institutions: Texas State University, Austin Community College, Temple College at Taylor (no on-campus presence)

Classes/degrees: Texas State offers only junior and senior classes, seven bachelor's degrees and 16 master's degrees. ACC offers freshman and sophomore classes, 14 associate degrees and three certificate programs.

Programs: Texas State's offerings include occupational education, interdisciplinary studies, psychology, computer information systems, business administration and criminal justice. ACC's offerings include: accounting, art, foreign language, marketing, pre-pharmacy/pre-veterinary and technical communications.

Avery Building: Campus's only classroom building for now. Named for family that donated 101 acres for campus.

Classrooms: 40

Labs/computer classrooms: Five computer classrooms, two open computer labs, four computer lounges

Texas State faculty: 120

ACC faculty: 60

Student information: 716-4000, Texas State and ACC; www.rrhec.txstate.edu; www.austincc.edu/centers/ror.htm

Future plans
Nursing: Texas State plans to add a nursing program. This year, the university requested money from the Legislature to operate a startup nursing program but didn't receive it. The university will request the money again in 2007.

Seton hospital: The Seton Healthcare Network plans to build a hospital just east of campus. Seton and St. David's HealthCare Partnership officials, who operate the Round Rock Medical Center, have said they will provide on-the-job-training for a nursing program.