By Melissa Ludwig
No more a seed campus. No more an offshoot of Kingsville. The little Texas A&M outpost that began in a cluster of portables on the South Side is now known as Texas A&M University-San Antonio, a freestanding university that could have a home of its own by 2011.
The switch flipped when Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill this weekend freeing up $40 million in tuition revenue bonds to build a campus on 700 acres near Loop 410 and South Zarzamora Street. The bill also jump-started two other new schools — the University of North Texas at Dallas and Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen.
Students, college officials and lawmakers celebrated Wednesday at a signing ceremony in Austin.
“It’s a great feeling to know that students who began their college careers in cramped, temporary classrooms at a former elementary school will finish up in the new buildings of a modern university campus,” said State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who carried the flag for A&M-San Antonio after the 2006 death of Sen. Frank Madla.
Though Perry vetoed a similar bill two years ago, his words indicated a change of heart.
“Texas is a state on the upswing. As our population continues to grow ... we need to make sure we have the higher education opportunities in place to groom the work force of the next 50 years,” Perry said.
For A&M boosters, the signing elicited sighs of relief.
“Was I worried? Sure,” said Frank Madla III, the senator’s son. In politics, “you never take things for granted. If (my father) was alive today, he would be very happy.”
The bill lowered the enrollment threshold for the bond money from 1,500 to 1,000 full-time students, a level the San Antonio campus hit this spring. Critics have said the move will result in waste, pointing to a state guideline that says 3,500 full-time students are needed to support an independent university.
But in San Antonio, it’s not just about the university.
Developers with Verano Land Group, which donated the land for the campus, are poised to build an urban village around the campus. Construction of city-funded roads is under way, and plans are in the works for a rail station to be the southernmost point of a planned commuter line between Austin and San Antonio.
“The ripple effect is going to be phenomenal,” said Ralph Lampman, a principal Verano investor.
Big changes are afoot at the little campus.
The first graduating class of A&M-San Antonio will cross the stage this fall. Colors and a mascot will soon be chosen, and staying true to Texas A&M’s legacy, the school will soon begin an ROTC program and add agricultural degree programs.
And, of course, an athletics program will eventually come.
“Our tagline is, ‘Same spirit — New traditions,’” said Maria Hernandez Ferrier, who will stay on as campus director until regents name a new president. “The entire community will be a part of building those traditions.” A&M in S.A.: ?Same spirit ? New traditions?