Updated: Regents approve changes to new UT System headquarters

Alex Wilts

Update (Aug. 21): The UT System Board of Regents approved the design changes to the new System administration building and the total project cost increase on Thursday.

Original Story (Aug. 20): After lengthy discussion, the UT System Board of Regents Facilities Planning and Construction Committee approved design changes to the proposed new System administration building, which would increase the total project cost to $133.1 million.

The item is subject to full boards approval on Thursday.

The System currently operates out of five buildings. By consolidating operations into one building, the System anticipates saving between $2 million and $6 million per year, which can be redirected toward “student success.”

If we can save money and redirect that to the missions of our campuses, that's exceedingly important,” Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said.

Expected to be completed in 2017, the new building will be located on Seventh Street between Colorado and Lavaca streets, across from Ashbel Smith Hall, which houses the current board meeting room.

The project was first approved in 2012 with a project cost of more $102.4 million. The proposed design changes increases the number of floors from 15 to 19 and the total square footage from 258,500 to 342,200.

The building will be constructed according to commercial design standards with the intention that 30 percent of it will be leased to outside tenants and 70 percent will haven an "open space" office design.

Regent Gene Powell brought up several concerns with the design, including the amount of open space, the new board meeting room and the pavement size at the main entrance.

Powell recommended the committee review the building’s design over the next few weeks before the item reaches the full board.

“I think this a very important project, and I think its one we’ve got to get right,” Powell said. “I’m not trying to delay the building or stop the building. I’m for the project.”

After Michael O’Donnell, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning and construction, warned the total project cost could increase if put on hold, the committee agreed to approve the project contingent on Powell’s concerns being addressed in the coming weeks.

UT architecture professor Larry Speck, who is also an architect at the firm designing the building, told the committee that the new building’s design will be practical and sensible.

“This is, as far as I can tell, a pretty bold step for the System,” Speck said.

Speck also said the design of the board meeting room in the new building will also be more efficient than the one currently used, which boasts large chandeliers.

I do hope that we auction off these golden chandeliers and use the money for student scholarships,” Regent Alex Cranberg said.