The University of Texas at Austin is known for its landmark buildings — The Tower, The Texas Union, Battle Hall. Soon to join these campus icons: the new College of Liberal Arts building, nearing completion on the East Mall.
Not only is the building the newest landmark for the campus, it is also a landmark for innovative funding and cost-effective planning and design.
“This is the first time a college has funded its own building,” says Kathleen Aronson, the college’s assistant dean for development, who notes that the project marks a number of “firsts” for the college and university. “We are the first college to take out a loan for a building and to identify college funds to finance the loan. It is a model for other colleges to follow.”
It is not unlike a homeowner taking out a 30-year mortgage, says Jamie Southerland, the college’s assistant dean for business affairs, who adds that the college could not afford to wait for state funding that is allocated to the university’s list of capital improvement projects.
“We decided we couldn’t wait — we were simply out of space for faculty, students and classrooms,” says Southerland, “and it is so important to have high-quality space if you want to recruit high-quality faculty and students.”
Aronson says a big challenge was the downturn in the economy. “We started the process for the new building just as the economy collapsed. But our alumni and friends were very enthusiastic about our approach to the project, and partnered with us to exceed our $20 million fundraising goal,” Aronson says. “This building would not have been possible without their support.”
The chair of the building’s steering committee, Martin W. Dies III, had this to say about the process: “As a graduate of the university, I appreciated seeing Dean Diehl make the difficult decisions necessary for creating the first-of-itskind self-funding model for a building on the Forty Acres. I partnered with the Dean on this project because the impact of my gift will be felt today in the labs and classrooms of this new building and well into the future as the college realizes significant savings because of this innovative funding model.”
The fact that the college is investing in its own building is an important factor in keeping costs down, says Joe TenBarge, Jr., who oversees the building project for the college.
He says that pre-planning saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Usually draftsmen and engineers pre-plan to avoid potential conflicts. Spawglass (the general contractor) went even further, working with subcontractors and their foremen to first build the project in a virtual computer simulation,” says TenBarge, an assistant dean for the college and director of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS). “Changes during the construction phase are very expensive. We brought the actual builders in to identify potential conflicts in the virtual model. They are the ones who ultimately put this thing together.” He also notes that LAITS installed all of the A/V cabling and classroom technology themselves to save on installation costs.
TenBarge says the building is important because it will be a “home” for liberal arts students and will help them feel a connection to the college as a whole.
“Other colleges tend to be more geographically cohesive and they have special areas dedicated to students,” TenBarge says. “We also needed to create a collaborative, high-quality environment for social science research. Our hope is that it will fuel an explosion in productivity by research faculty and students.”
As for the building’s iconic status, TenBarge concludes: “When you stand on San Jacinto and look up at the East Mall, it already looms as a campus landmark.”