New RGV University

Read more about UTRGV.

On June 14, 2013 the 83rd Texas Legislature approved the creation of a new University of Texas and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. The new university, UT Rio Grande Valley, will be a single institution that spans the entire region with facilities in each of the major metropolitan areas of Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, and McAllen. The new university will combine the resources of the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), the University of Brownsville (UTB), and the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio Regional Academic Health Center School of Public Health (RAHC).  In November, 2013 UT-RGV received $196 million from the Permanent University Fund to establish the new institution.

The creation of UT-RGV is a historic moment for the Rio Grande Valley, offering an unprecedented opportunity for regional impact and unification. UT-RGV is expected to serve as a model of educational excellence, transforming the social, physical, and economic prosperity of the Valley. For communities, particularly those of low-income, plans for the new university hold the promise of a powerful ally in positive change. For the new university, active engagement in local context assures its relevance as a competitive leader in first class higher education.

In an effort to leverage the reciprocal relationship of university and community, bcWORKSHOP partnered with the University of Texas System, the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB), Public Architecture, U3 Ventures, Educate Texas, and LRGV organizing groups LUPE, ARISE, and START to ensure that the principles and practices of engagement are embedded in the fabric of the new institution and that the low-income community is an active participant in the planning process.

On November 8, 2013, the team co-hosted a day-long Forum on Community Engagement in Weslaco, Texas. Together with over 100 participants, community leaders, students, local experts, national advisors, and UT system staff contributed to more than 500 hours of collective brainpower - discussing and envisioning ways in which to transform the Rio Grande Valley. In preparation for the Forum, local organizing groups conducted surveys, workshops, and focus groups where community members identified priority action items in relation to health, education, economic development, and regional planning. The Forum built upon these priorities and best practice knowledge to develop a community agenda that promotes innovative strategies for university and regional growth.  The Forum was a successful first step in establishing community-university partnership and identifying potential principles and practices of the new engaged university.

Ideas generated at the Forum will be packaged by bcWORKSHOP and shared back to the community, UT System, and UT-RGV planners.  Community and university planning and partnership will continue through 2014.

Designing a New UTB

Read more about our work in the RGV.

A Victory for the Public’s Interest

In the summer of 2012, uncertainty surrounded the announced divorce of Texas Southmost College (TSC) and the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB). City of Brownsville long-term strategic plans for the future economic vitality and success of its greater downtown core included anchor academic institutions, namely the existing TSC-UTB partnership and shared facilities. The separation of these two institutions had serious long-term economic and social implications for the health of the greater downtown area. An early study commissioned by UT Regents recommended a relocation of the UT Brownsville campus to a site north of the city, a plan generated without community engagement or input.

In an effort to influence the UT Board of Regents’ upcoming decision regarding the future location of UTB, bcWORKSHOP organized and facilitated a design charrette during which participants shared their vision for a new UTB and greater Downtown. The charrette paired local stakeholders with national experts in urban design, engineering, institutional development and city shaping. Public Architecture secured technical expertise in Cannon Design and Sam Schwartz Engineering and engaged U3 Ventures to assist with economic development. Participants, including academic administrators, faculty, students, business owners, developers, city staff, political leaders, and residents, numbered more than 75 during the July 25-28, 2012 charrette process.

bcWORKSHOP packaged the ideas generated at the design charrette and presented them in collaboration with the City of Brownsville to the Board of Regents. As a result, the UT system issued (1) a competitive Request for Qualifications for comprehensive architectural services concerning the design of a 21st century campus that was subsequently awarded to Cannon Design and (2) a Request for Proposals (RFP) for land acquisitions concerning the future location of UTB’s campus. Continuing planning efforts, the City of Brownsville asked bcWORKSHOP to assist in preparing a response to the RFP. The proposal created by bcWORKSHOP was a collection of privately and publicly owned land in the greater downtown and highlighted strengths of an urban campus as a place where:

  • synergies exist to positively shape the multi-faceted student experience
  • new development leverages existing UTB physical assets
  • flexibility enables the new 21st century education model

The urban campus proposal was submitted in October 2012. On May 9, 2013 the University of Texas Board of Regents voted to pass a motion confirming Downtown Brownsville as the future location of UTB. The vote authorized negotiations for lease of property from Texas Southmost College and to continue discussions with the City of Brownsville regarding purchase of land for future development. The Board’s decision is a victory for UTB students, faculty, and the greater Brownsville community. The downtown campus decision is seen as a culmination of community engagement efforts to ensure that the long-term plan reflects a thoughtful investment in the vitality of the campus, the downtown area, and their users.

UTB 2.0: Proposal for a Knowledge Community was prepared following the Community charrette.