NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Members of Stephen F. Austin State University’s Board of Regents acknowledged the institution’s 95th anniversary by approving the launch of one of the largest building initiatives in SFA’s history. Construction projects approved include a welcome and student support center, expansion of buildings utilized by the College of Fine Arts, construction and renovation of student residential and dining facilities, and a basketball practice facility.

Dr. Steve Westbrook, vice president for university affairs, said the projects will allow the university to provide learning and living environments that foster collaboration and connections with others and prepare students for life-long learning and career responsiveness in the 21st century.

“For the past 95 years SFA has had an impact on both our state and our region,” Westbrook said. “To continue that impact, we must position the university to meet the needs of our future students and to provide transformational experiences for them in an exceptional setting. These construction projects will help us enhance the experience for all students, beginning as early as their first year on campus.”

The Kennedy Auditorium, constructed in 1966, will be renovated for use as a welcome center and “one-stop shop” for prospective students and visitors. To support the welcome center and expand one-stop-shop student services, the Rusk Building will be renovated to include student support services provided by departments including admissions, academic advising, business office, financial aid, registrar and residence life.

A recent study of the SFA campus conducted by Facilities Programming and Consulting, a strategic facilities planning agency, examined ways to provide additional service and support for prospective students, visitors and currently enrolled students. Among the agency’s recommendations was the creation of a welcome center staffed by university employees who provide information about a variety of topics, including admission and academics, billing and payments, financial aid, and campus life and housing.

Erma Nieto Brecht, executive director of enrollment management, said the study also recommended the renovation of the Rusk Building to consolidate expanded delivery of those services.

“We live in a technology-driven world; however, selecting a college is a significant decision for the student and the family,” Brecht said. “In order to enhance the SFA experience for both prospective and current students, it is important to find a balance of both automation and personal service.”

Brecht said a process will be implemented so information is provided to prospective and current students without the need for them to be “ping-ponged” between buildings across campus. The estimated cost for the welcome center and student support services project is $13 million.

The Facilities Programming and Consulting study also identified needs in the College of Fine Arts.

“This is an absolutely unprecedented time in the history of the College of Fine Arts,” said Dr. Buddy Himes, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “New construction will allow the College of Fine Arts to alleviate concerns for space, grow to its potential in enrollment, be competitive with similar programs in Texas and fully capitalize upon student markets for new programs.”

Construction will more than double the size of the Griffith Fine Arts Building, which was built in 1959, while maintaining some of the historic components. Among the new facilities will be a 350-seat main theatre and an intimate black box theatre.

Himes explained that the facilities will allow SFA to merge the dance program, currently housed in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, with the School of Theatre, and to begin a new program in musical theatre. The new facilities will allow the School of Art’s filmmaking program to move from the 1923 “film house” on Starr Avenue to modern facilities specifically designed for that discipline.

The estimated project cost for the fine arts expansion initiative is $37 million.

“Music’s sound recording technology program will have a new recording studio. This, combined with two full time SRT faculty members and a corps of some 80 majors, will make our program the premier SRT program in Texas,” Himes said.

The university’s campus master plan includes the development of a new first-year student residence hall and the renovation of existing residential facilities to enhance student life and increase the attractiveness of these facilities for prospective students. In addition, the renovation or replacement of the current East College Dining Hall and renovations to other existing dining facilities will more efficiently provide the flexibility needed to meet the demand for contemporary food-service options.

“East College Cafeteria was opened in 1968, and the way it was constructed, while modern at the time, has proven a challenge for us when trying to accommodate the needs of a contemporary dining services program,” Westbrook said. “We will determine if we can adequately renovate the existing structure to meet our students’ needs or if it will need to be replaced by a new facility.”

A new 400-bed residence hall is planned for construction on the east side of Lumberjack Landing, a residence hall constructed in 2010.

“This project is part of our long-term strategy to continue updating our student residential facilities, both by the construction of a new, state-of-the-art residence hall and by the on-going renovation of existing residential facilities,” Westbrook said.

The estimated project cost for the student residential and dining facilities project is $39.5 million.

Regents selected Kirksey Architecture as the firm to design the welcome and student support center, fine arts facilities, and student residential and dining facilities. Based in Houston, Kirksey Architecture has decades of experience and designed SFA’s new Cole STEM Building and Lumberjack Landing.

The university’s current campus master plan also includes development of athletic facilities. At the January 2018 meeting, regents selected Gensler Architects to conduct an athletic facilities assessment. The agency’s proposal to the Board of Regents’ Athletic Subcommittee recommended support space for men’s and women’s basketball, including a practice court, locker rooms, athletic training room, office and lounge areas, and equipment storage.

“The new basketball performance center will provide us with an opportunity to continue to grow our athletics department,” said Ryan Ivey, director of athletics. “Having quality and functional facilities is something that is critical to our ability to achieve long-term success. Our vision is to become the leading mid-major athletics department in the nation, and this is the first step in achieving that vision.”

Regents selected Populous to design the new athletic facilities. Consistently ranked the most innovative company by Fast Company Magazine, the Populous firm has designed more than 2,500 facilities, including projects at London Olympic Stadium and Wimbledon Centre Court.

The board selected Kingham Dalton Wilson as the construction company for all of the approved construction initiatives. A Houston-based company, KDW has more than 115 years of experience and has completed more than 1,000 projects.

To fund the construction, a series of revenue financing system bonds will be issued in an amount not to exceed $125 million. The university will utilize cash reserves to fund construction-related expenses prior to the bond issuance, but regents authorized administrators to obtain short-term financing for expenses, if necessary. If a short-term financing proposal is selected, terms and pricing will be brought back to the Board of Regents at a later meeting for approval.

Regents approved a $10 increase in the university services fee, to be set at $83 per semester credit hour, effective fall 2019. Regents also approved a 6.5-percent increase in room rates for both the fall 2019 and fall 2020 semesters. After the increases, SFA room rates will be 22 percent below the median rate for suite-style residence halls charged by other Texas universities and 26 percent below the median rate for halls with common bathrooms, according to Westbrook.

Regents approved SFA’s 2020-21 Legislative Appropriations Request to the Texas Legislative Budget Board, which included a $2 million biennial request to fund a STEM/early childhood initiative and a tuition revenue bond capital request to construct a $48 million Natural Resources Science and Innovations Laboratory.

While the $46.4 million Cole STEM Building was considered substantially complete when classes began in the fall 2018 semester, Regents approved an $850,000 increase in the project budget, bringing the total budget to $47.25 million.

According to Dr. Danny Gallant, vice president for finance and administration, since the project began, tuition revenue bond proceeds have been invested, and current investment earnings total $778,491. Using current interest rates, those earnings are expected to amount to $850,000.

“Utilizing those earnings, along with savings that have accumulated as a result of construction costs that have come in under budget, we have an opportunity to complete components of the Cole STEM Building project that were planned initiatives, which we expected to complete at some point in the future,” Gallant said.

A portion of the funding will be utilized to improve the Griffith Drive entrance to the facility.

With the board’s approval, the university will purchase property located at 1521 Baker St. to enhance student parking, along with a new shuttle bus to transport students to and from parking lots, at a cost not to exceed $200,000.

Regents approved the purchase of a 52-passenger bus at a cost not to exceed $615,000.

Regents approved a contract with SirsiDynix for a cloud-based integrated library system and the purchase of Nuventive Improve assessment software. The assessment software will allow the university to collect data from multiple sources and tie that data to existing goals and objectives in order to make data-informed decisions associated with the SFA Envisioned Strategic Plan through student learning outcomes.

The university will continue to lease office and classroom space at the Lone Star College’s university center in The Woodlands to offer courses to Houston-area students.

Curriculum changes approved for fall 2018 include music performance courses for Italian, English, French and German diction and various courses in English and interdisciplinary studies. The board approved adding a graduate certificate in teaching psychology and a graduate course in psychology.

Additional items approved during the meeting Monday include:

  • financial affairs, academic and student affairs, and building and grounds policy revisions, as well as revisions to board rules and regulations;
  • the receipt of an audit services report and the annual audit report and audit charter;
  • an additional $113,484 in grant awards for fiscal year 2018 and approximately $3 million for fiscal year 2019;
  • an extension on a medical insurance billing contract with Vivature through Dec. 31, 2019, for the university health clinic;
  • and course fee changes and minutes from the July Board of Regents meeting.

Regents heard reports regarding contract monitoring, current campus construction and enrollment management. Faculty Senate Chair Dr. Jason Reese and Student Government Association President Jeffrey Agouna-Deciat also delivered reports to the board.