ROUND ROCK — For the first time, Texas State University officials can all but touch the state money that would launch a nursing program on their Round Rock campus.
Shut out by the Legislature last year, Texas State now has $36 million earmarked for a second classroom building in Round Rock, after state lawmakers' authorization of a $1.8 billion college construction bond package this week. The new building, which could open by 2010, could reach 145,000 square feet and house equipment and laboratories for a degreed nursing program.
The Texas State Round Rock Education Center, which just completed its first full academic year with more than 2,000 Texas State and Austin Community College students, dedicated its lone building Friday. The four-story Avery Building is named for the Avery family, which donated 101 acres for the campus.
By decade's end, officials could be dedicating a nursing facility that could help ease Texas' nursing shortage, staff new Round Rock and Williamson County hospitals and shape the region's economy by creating new jobs.
Seton Healthcare Network officials, who plan to break ground on the adjacent Seton Medical Center Williamson in August, say they're committed to providing hands-on training for Texas State nursing students.
Officials from St. David's HealthCare, which operates the Round Rock Medical Center, and Scott & White, which is building a Round Rock hospital, pledge to do the same.
Officials at Texas State, which doesn't offer a nursing program at the flagship San Marcos campus, requested $40 million for the building. Now, with some legislators demanding that universities help finance new construction, Texas State faces the prospect of finding $4 million to build the type of nursing facility it wants.
"We believe we can build an adequate building to meet the needs," said Bill Nance, Texas State's finance director.
The Senate has insisted that higher education institutions "have some skin in the game," said Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
"The purpose was not to tell them (Texas State) they could only do $36 million, but to tell them, 'If you want to build $40 million, you have to do some with your own discretionary funds,' " Ogden said.
Texas State President Denise Trauth is hoping legislators reconsider their $4 million cut.
"I would hate to see it trimmed," Trauth said, noting the cost of new construction. "Based on the methodology, this was a very high priority. If you get fewer dollars, you're building less square footage."
Plus, Trauth said, the young Round Rock campus lacks the resources to generate revenue.
Even if Texas State receives more money for the building, it still needs $8 million — $2 million a year for four years — to cover faculty costs, Trauth said. That request, denied last year, will be resurrected next year, university officials said.
"We would love to have help from any entity, but we can't go forward with a nursing program unless we know for certain that we have the $8 million," Trauth said.
The Legislature still must appropriate money to cover the construction bonds' debt in next year's regular session, but lawmakers haven't identified where they'll find that money.
Ogden said he supports Texas State's nursing building request, which received "highly recommended" status in a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board report that ranked all tuition revenue bond requests.
If requests were highly recommended — such as Texas State's $47.7 million for an undergraduate academic center on its San Marcos campus and $40 million for the second classroom building in Round Rock — they received 90 percent funding; requests tagged as recommended received 80 percent funding, Ogden said.
Certainly, this week's authorization is a dramatic turnaround from last year when deadline bickering among House and Senate members killed a record $2.7 billion higher education spending bill in special session. Texas State's plans, which seemed so close to reality, came crashing down on the Capitol floor.
But this spending bill is far from perfect, Ogden said.
"It's a wish list that was passed, and a better wish list than was passed before," Ogden said. "The real work is passing it next session. We've got to go from want to reality."