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U. T. Regents approve design of building for Regional Academic Health Center (2-10-00)

The University of Texas System Board of Regents, meeting in Houston, today approved the design of the Medical Education Building for the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC). The 94,000-square-foot building will be located in Harlingen and will be operated by the U. T. Health Science Center at San Antonio. Total project cost is $25 million.

The Regents also voted to amend the U. T. Systemís five-year capital improvement program and the next fiscal capital budget to include the Health Science Centerís Childrenís Cancer Research Center. The board authorized a preliminary project cost of $49.5 million for the center, which is being created from the Health Science Centerís portion of the stateís tobacco settlement endowment.

In a third vote, the Regents accepted a donation of nearly nine acres of land and improvements from the city of Laredo for the Health Science Centerís Laredo Campus Extension. A bill passed during the 76th Texas Legislature authorized the extension, which will be adjacent to Laredoís Mercy Regional Hospital. The board approved a preliminary project cost of $4 million.

"Each of these projects will benefit the citizens of South Texas, and that is why we are so grateful for the Regentsí generosity," said John P. Howe, III, M.D., president of the Health Science Center. "Expansion of medical education and research, especially in underserved areas or to help children, is a noble undertaking that will undoubtedly bear fruit in the form of healthier, improved lives."

The Harlingen Medical Education Division of the Regional Academic Health Center will support increased clinical training of medical professionals in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The Health Science Centerís Medical School will operate this division and a RAHC Research Division to be constructed later in Edinburg.

"The RAHC building will be a magnificent structure that will make an emphatic statement to the community," said James J. Young, Ph.D., dean of the Medical School. "It will tell them that medical education is important, that partnership between the university and the community is important, and that opportunity for improvement in health in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is important."

Leonel Vela, M.D., who as regional dean for the RAHC will be based in the new building, said it "represents a solidifying of the partnership and the commitment between the Valley community and the Health Science Center." Dr. Vela, currently at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, begins his new duties March 1.

RAHC clinical teaching facilities will be provided by Valley Baptist Medical Center, a major teaching hospital, and Su Clinica Familiar, a major ambulatory clinic. Both of these facilities will be within walking distance of the new RAHC building.

The RAHC building design includes an auditorium and state-of-the-art library, teaching rooms, clinical simulation centers, clinical assessment areas and faculty office space. The library will be linked to the Dolph Briscoe Jr. Library at the Health Science Center and will offer access to all of its library reference search engines. Students and faculty will be able to utilize the same library resources that their counterparts in San Antonio utilize.

The auditorium will enable the center to offer educational programs and invite state and national speakers who will be of interest to the health care community and, on occasion, the public. "This building will be inviting and open," Dr. Vela said. "Itís a design that gives one a very distinct impression that it embraces the community."

HOK/BFW, L.L.C., of Houston is the designer-builder. The Medical Education Division is expected to be fully operational by mid-2002.

The Board of Regentsí authorization of the Childrenís Cancer Research Center represents another step in the centerís creation. House Bill 1945, passed by the 76th Legislature, established the Permanent Health Fund, which includes a $200 million endowment for the Health Science Center. Interest on the $200 million will be used to establish, maintain and operate the Childrenís Cancer Research Center. "This facility will be one of a kind in the world," Dr. Young said. "It will represent an enormous opportunity for research into the special needs of children with cancer."

Endowment proceeds are estimated to be $9 million a year, said Anthony J. Infante, M.D., Ph.D., interim director of the Childrenís Cancer Research Center and professor of pediatrics at the Health Science Center.

"We have allocated the entire first-year budget into specific categories and we have a preliminary outline for the second year," Dr. Infante said. "About $5.2 million of the 2000 budget will go directly into scientific projects, and other monies will go toward center start-up costs, planning, faculty recruiting and infrastructure."

One of the first items of business is to recruit a nationally recognized center director who works in the area of childrenís cancer research, Dr. Infante said. That nationwide search already is under way. The center is expected to increase scientific knowledge relevant to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer diseases, and to accelerate the translation of existing knowledge into new therapies, vaccines and other interventions.

The project will increase the Health Science Centerís already strong partnership with the Cancer Therapy & Research Center in San Antonio. These two organizations jointly established the San Antonio Cancer Institute, which is one of the nationís National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

The Laredo Campus Extension of the Health Science Center will involve construction of a new facility of about 20,000 square feet. The building will provide educational and support space to enhance and expand programs conducted under the auspices of the Area Health Education Center and the South Texas/Border Initiative. This space will contain classrooms, laboratories, administrative areas, offices and teleconferencing facilities.

In other action at the two-day meeting, the Regents approved up to $3 million in additional funding for the South Texas Centers for Biology in Medicine, a project under construction in the Texas Research Park west of San Antonio. The additional funding will complete the third level of the facility, which may open by the end of 2000. The South Texas Centers will be devoted to research of conditions prevalent in South Texas, including diabetes, aging, cancer and infectious diseases. The newly approved funding will be added to $6 million previously appropriated from the Permanent University Fund (PUF) and $13 million raised in gifts and grants from the community.

Also Thursday, the Regents authorized the Health Science Center to establish a Bachelor of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies and to submit the proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for review.

The board also approved the following Permanent University Fund (PUF) appropriations for the Health Science Center:

  • $7 million for core research facilities;
  • $7 million for interdisciplinary teaching space; and
  • $1.6 million for administrative system software and hardware.

Contact: Will Sansom