UH expansion in Sugar Land, Katy plans for big partnerships

UH Sugar Land

Sugar Land already houses the Digital Media program for the College of Technology. | The Cougar/Sonia Zuniga

UH is growing beyond the main campus as it plans two separate initiatives: building a $54 million new facility at the UH Sugar Land campus and building an entirely new home in Katy, worth $46.8 million allocated from the House Bill 100 passed in June. Both projects are receiving funding from the Capital Constructions Bonds.

HB100, authorizing higher education funding, allows for $3 billion in construction bonds for new buildings at universities throughout the UH System.

Beacon of innovation in technology

The 150,000-sq.-ft. new facility in UHSL won’t be completed until 2019, but it’s already created some buzz in the College of Technology.

A portion of the college will relocate into the fourth facility, a gradual transition that will add education, business, and health programs into the USHL campus, officially transitioning the institution to a university campus and the system’s fifth branch.

“I hope this new facility focuses on highlighting aspects in my study of field,” computer information systems senior Adedeji Akinfaderin said. “It’ll be good for our department to get our name out there — they have great programs in digital production.”

In 2013, Khator announced plans for UH to become the exclusive provider of baccalaureate and graduate programs at the Sugar Land campus from the UH System’s flagship university, according to the Task Force Report released in February 2014.

Now plans are under way to construct the new building, which will primarily house the College of Technology.

Standing in the intersection of Interstate 59 and University Boulevard, the 250-acre land was first transferred to the UH System from the Department of Transportation in 1998 to build a campus, which opened four years later.

The ever-expanding campus employs 200 faculty members and has an enrollment of 5,000 students, a number that is expected to rise roughly at 52 percent. An estimated 2,600 student applications are expected in the next five years, according to a UH news release.

“We have a fairly large campus in Sugar Land, it’s a project that is growing and we are committed to grow with them,” Vice President for Governmental and Community relations Jason Smith said. “Establishing a college of technology as our anchor college in the new building is very exciting.”

The UHSL campus had the 16-acre surplus land nearby for years. It was originally kept by TXDOT in case they needed to build a jug handle ramp, but the final design included an overpass at the intersection of Highway 59 and University Boulevard, so Associate Vice Chancellor for System Initiatives Richard D. Phillips said the land became surplus.

Student employment after graduation is a big goal behind the transition. Sugarland’s unemployment average comes at a low 4.2 percent as of June 2014 according to its city’s data, which is below the Texas average of 5.5 percent.

New home in Katy

Roughly the size of Pittsburgh, which houses seven universities, the Katy area has a community of 305,000, which is expected to grow past 550,000 in the next 20 years. The area has three cities — Katy, Fulshear and Houston — and three counties (Harris, Fort Bend and Waller) within.

The new Katy campus will focus on having fitting degree offerings concentrating on business, engineering and nursing.

“The Katy area has a pretty large business industry there,” Smith said. “There’s an oil and gas interest and healthcare related companies in Katy, so those are the three we know about that will be some of the dominant programs.”

Katy’s current UH neighbor, UH Cinco Ranch, offers 20 degrees in its 37,000-sq.-ft. building. The Cinco Ranch teaching center, however, is enclosed by the surrounding development with no room to expand.

The new campus is expected to be developed in accordance to Katy’s higher education needs. Engineering and energy-related programs, along with nursing, were identified as natural fits for the region, Phillips said.

UH filed a preliminary request for a tuition revenue bond in January worth $60 million, and according to the Katy Area Economic Development Council, this would’ve funded the purchase of land and construction of a 60,000-square-foot facility in Katy,

The campus development is still on the early stages of planning, a parcel of land is yet to be identified, said Smith, and they’re still “looking at a bunch of options and putting the finances together.”

Budgeting is a factor, but Smith finds that the numbers are just starting points, and when the construction is underway, they’ll develop a budget alternative to make these projects work. Phillips sees this as a welcome challenge.

“This is not a one-time investment,” Smith said. “It’ll be for many years to come.”

Road to Growth

Aside from the implementing programs that will take place in UHSL’s new building, the UH-Victoria nursing program will transition into UH School of Nursing, but remain on the Sugar Land campus, while expanding nursing programs in the main campus.

“It’s a big time for the university,” Smith said.

Phillips said that expectations are high with the investment of the two buildings, and they’re just starting.

“UH is Houston’s university,” Phillips said. “Students can expect to get the highest quality higher education in a manner, at a cost and at a location that meets their needs.”

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