Senate Bill 52 will allow the long-awaited rehabilitation of Old Ed

The Education Building at West Texas A&M University, commonly known as “Old Ed,” is set to receive a long-awaited rehabilitation. This is thanks to a $3.35 billion appropriation by the Texas Legislature on Oct. 19 for capital projects at higher education institutions in Texas.

Nothing is final until the funding and projects associated with the funding have been approved by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents and Chancellor John Sharp, but WT has been allotted $45 million under Senate Bill 52.

The Education Building was the second academic hall built on campus and it officially opened Oct. 19, 1928. The building housed a demonstration school for education majors to get hands-on experience teaching children. The demonstration school was discontinued in May 1951, but the building was still used as a classroom space until 1988. At that point, there was enough classroom space on campus and, since the building was old and dated, it went out of use.

The vision for the rehabilitation of the building is for it to be a launching pad, both for WT’s distance education plans and educational innovation.

“The new education is going to be digital, it’s going to be virtual, and it’s going to be delivered in different ways,” said WT President Walter V. Wendler. “My goal is to see the inside of that building as a high-end technology hub.”

The building has a definite purpose for the advancement of WT’s educational offerings, but there is much planning and detail involved in rehabilitating a building aside from simply having enough funds.

“Right now, we are going through an exercise called a program of requirements,” said Randy Rikel, vice president for business and finance at WT. “That is with an external architect firm. A program of requirements works with the individuals who will be in that building to find out what they need in that building.”

Some of these needs include how many classrooms, offices and labs should be in the building. After these technical details are nailed down, a timeline is given for the architectural design. Once the construction documents are finished, the university has to find a builder for the project.

It is estimated that the rehabilitation of the Education Building will cost about $32.5 million. The rest of the funds will be used to bring some older buildings on campus up to code and pay for ongoing maintenance.

The appropriation of money that has been allocated under SB52 is to be funded by tuition revenue bonds, which allows the universities to pay back the cost of these projects over a long period of time with student tuition and fees.

Texas State Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) said there was some funding available in the past legislative session for revenue bonds like the type that was allocated to WT to fund the Education Building renovations. A number of projects were included in the original proposal for these funds, but WT and a few others were left out.

“It was important to us who represent this area to get the West Texas A&M (University) projects included back into the proposal, which we were able to do and fortunate enough to do,” Smithee said. “We were able, eventually, to get the funding restored in both the House and the Senate versions, and it finally passed.”

Smithee remembers the disrepair of the Education Building from his time as a WT student and looks forward to seeing the building’s transformation.

“For those of us who are graduates, it’s a matter of pride to come back and see how good the campus looks,” Smithee said. “It’s really something I think for both current and former students to be very proud of.”

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