Engineering Education and Research Center Moves Closer to Reality

Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 11:45am

The University of Texas at Austin has cleared a major hurdle in its effort to build the new Engineering Education and Research Center, with the UT System Board of Regents today approving a $310 million funding plan for the building.

The new center will provide Cockrell School of Engineering students and faculty members with state-of-the-art laboratories and a modern, open-concept design. It will replace the Engineering-Science Building and temporary facilities in the Computer Sciences Annex and the Academic Annex. Current facilities, which were built more than 50 years ago, are inefficient and functionally obsolete.

“The Cockrell School is one of the great schools of engineering in America. That it has accomplished so much with facilities that are 30 to 50 years old is astonishing,” said President Bill Powers, who has led the efforts for several years to construct the building. “This new center will propel UT Austin to the highest tier of engineering education and research and will serve our state well into the future. I’m grateful to the Board of Regents for its long-standing support of this effort.”

The regents’ vote allows UT Austin to borrow up to $150 million through the UT System’s Revenue Financing System (RFS), a cost-effective debt program secured by a system-wide pledge of all available revenue for debt issued on behalf of the 15 UT institutions and UT System administration. The action became necessary when tuition revenue bonds were not approved this year by the Texas Legislature. UT Austin had requested authorization for $95 million in construction bonds from the Legislature for the engineering center.

“The UT Board of Regents and I both agree that the field of engineering is incredibly important and enhances the economic vibrancy of Texas,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa. “It is paramount that our students have access to excellent facilities that will help them become competitive and provide Texas with the skill and expertise our state needs.”

The regents had previously approved spending $105 million in Permanent University Fund (PUF) bond proceeds to partially finance the building. The university will provide $5 million in current funds, and the remaining $50 million will be paid through philanthropic gifts.

The university already has pledges that total $65 million for the building, the largest amount ever raised for a building project at UT Austin.

Previously, the regents had required UT Austin to raise $105 million in gifts to match the PUF allocation for the facility’s construction. UT Austin will still be required to raise the $105 million in philanthropy, specifically for either the EERC or Cockrell School of Engineering enhancements or scholarships.

“I would like to thank the Board of Regents and Chancellor Cigarroa for their commitment to our vision for the future of engineering education, and for seeing that the EERC is far more than a bricks and mortar project," said Gregory L. Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. "The EERC will be a modern engineering teaching facility, a gathering place for science and technology research across disciplines and a launching pad for discoveries and inventions that can change the world.”

“This day would not have been possible without the support of President Powers,” Fenves added.

Once the facility is complete, UT Austin will increase its number of undergraduate engineering students by 1,000 for a total of 6,000, as well as increase its number of engineering faculty members.

“This plan means we are one important step closer to achieving the vision of the Cockrell School of Engineering to become a global center for technology innovation, engineering education and entrepreneurship,” said Paul Foster, chairman of the Board of Regents. “The EERC is truly a paradigm shift for engineering education and research at UT Austin.”