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El Paso universities set to receive millions from Texas Legislature for campus construction projects

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Texas lawmakers passed a bill this week that provides $3.3 billion to fund capital projects at several public universities and colleges, including the University of Texas at El Paso and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. The schools are set to receive $52 million and $59 million, respectively.

UTEP will construct an Advanced Teaching and Learning Complex to support its College of Liberal Arts, according to the bill. TTUHSC El Paso will use the money for its dental school building.

Texas Tech’s Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine is the first dental school in a border city and fourth dental school in Texas. The school welcomed its inaugural class of 40 students last summer and will open a public community clinic later this year, according to its website.

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TTUHSC El Paso President Richard Lange said he is grateful that the funding is available.

“We’re incredibly grateful that there is TRB (tuition revenue bond) money available and is coming to this community at both institutions, Texas Tech and UTEP,” Lange said.

Lange explained that with the exception of only three schools, every health science center received the same amount of funding at $59 million.

“There’s no winners or losers,” he said of the legislation, Senate Bill 52 by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.

However, Lange said the dental project is estimated to cost $180 million and that he and other school officials will have to discuss next steps on how to afford the remaining $121 million.

“We just found out about this (SB 52) yesterday and until we found out yesterday and today, we weren’t even sure what that full amount would be,” Lange said Wednesday.

The school currently has a temporary space for a dental clinic that allows them to see 60,000 patients annually. Students take classes in the school’s medical science building.

The future dental school building will not only be a combination of a clinic and a learning center for students, but will also include pediatric and primary care, Lange said.

“Dental care affects health in many ways like high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, nutrition,” Lange said. “And conversely, many people with dental issues also have health issues. So being able to take care of all of those in a single location makes it convenient for the patients but more importantly, it coordinates care.”

Dr. Richard Black demonstrates the use of dummies in the dental school’s lab, where students will learn how to perform the hands-on aspects of dentistry. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

State Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, who sits on the Texas Senate’s Higher Education Committee and co-authored the bill, said the funding will help both schools achieve their missions.

“As a member of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, I am proud to help secure the resources UTEP and TTUHSCEP need to provide our students with a quality education and learning environment,” Blanco said in a press release.

The funding will help replace one of UTEP’s oldest College of Liberal Arts’ classroom buildings. The current structures, which are over 40 years old, “have significant deferred maintenance needs,” according to UTEP documents. The construction of the complex is estimated to cost $113 million.

UTEP officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Gov. Greg Abbott added higher education construction projects to the special legislative session agenda Friday, days before the third session ended earlier this week.

Texas lawmakers last approved a tuition revenue bond bill in 2015. The bill renames the bonds as capital construction assistance projects.

The UT System, which includes UTEP, is set to receive $814 million and the Texas Tech system will receive $271 million.

The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Cover photo: The Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine is the first dental school in West Texas. Its inaugural cohort of 40 students will start classes in July. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Jewél Jackson

Jewél Jackson covers higher education for El Paso Matters, through a partnership with Open Campus Media. She is a 2020 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

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