On the rise


STC bond construction nearing completion at all five campuses

South Texas College is having a growth spurt, and the Rio Grande Valley is poised to directly benefit.

With projects under construction nearing completion at all five of its campuses, STC stands to play a major role in law enforcement and fire training, as well as nursing and allied health education — all while offering more resources, services, and space to its ever-growing student population. Funded by a $159 million bond voters passed in 2013, a number of projects will be complete and ready for students this fall and in 2018.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated projects is the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence. Located in Pharr, the $9.3 million Phase One is slated to be complete in time to welcome students in the fall of 2018. The bond funds $4 million of the cost, while the rest is paid for by the City of Pharr, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, and the Texas Department of Safety. The center will see two additional phases of construction as a part of a $70.5 million long-range master plan to be developed through 2030. This facility will not only be a state-of-the-art location for STC students obtaining associate degrees of applied science in fire science and law enforcement to learn — it will also serve as a resource for continuing education for existing police officers and firefighters. Even dual credit PSJA students studying criminal justice will have the opportunity to attend classes at the center.

“It’s going to be a comprehensive facility for fire and police, and as we evolve, it might also become a facility that will be used by Homeland Security, Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, FBI,” said Mario Reyna, STC’s dean of Business & Technology. “Those individuals might be able to participate with us. We’re talking to all of them to see how they can use the facility, so all of this is going to be extremely exciting for the law enforcement community.”

The 19,375-square-foot center includes a skills pad and accident avoidance course for traffic maneuvers and other vehicle training. Many law enforcement agencies have been completing this type of training at the drag racing strip in Edinburg. One of the biggest goals for this facility is to offer a comprehensive, centralized location for training and education for police and firefighters throughout the Rio Grande Valley. In the future, Reyna said he expects additions of a covered shooting range and a live fire facility for fire trainees at the center. STC officials also anticipate partnerships that will have an impact beyond the region with the possibility of local law enforcement agencies working with state and federal entities at the center.

“They’re already working together,” STC’s Wanda Garza said. Garza is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the college’s master plan for the center as well as uniting officials in support of the project. “There’s just not a facility here to bring in all this specialized training that they each can build on. It’s just a very efficient way to a very integrated border security training platform.”

While the benefits for law enforcement agencies are obvious, the Valley and perceptions of the region also stand to gain a big boost with the opening of the center next year.

“We get all this bad publicity about the border — is it safe? — because we don’t tell that story,” Garza said. “For us to see the kind of high level training here, I think it’s going to give a whole different picture on border security and how safe our border really is with these consummate professionals.”stc

Dual credit students at PSJA aren’t the only high schoolers who will benefit directly from STC’s bond projects. The Valley’s 16,000 dual credit enrolled students will have access to increased services, facilities, and space at all of STC’s campuses.

Of the dual credit students in the region, 12,500 are early college high school students, while the rest are traditional dual credit students who attend some classes on STC’s campuses. New construction for academic buildings on all five campuses means more space for students and more opportunities to offer classes when students most need to take them. STC’s Pecan Campus in McAllen has used $55 million of the bond in the construction of two academic buildings, a STEM building, and a student activities and cafeteria building. The Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco is working on a new health and science facility, a student services building expansion, and a library expansion and remodeling. The Technology Campus in McAllen will open a $15.6 million expansion for its Institute for Advanced Manufacturing this fall.

“What is happening at this point is our existing programs have grown to the point that they don’t fit in the facilities they’re in right now, so this new facility is going to allow our programs to have additional space,” said Reyna, the dean of Business & Technology. “You can just imagine the amount of growth we’ve had in the last 20 years. So this is going to give everybody space to offer more classes and obviously serve the community a lot better.”

Housing the manufacturing programs in the 76,000-square-foot facility will allow for the expansion of existing diesel, automotive, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning programs at the Technology Campus, which serves between 1,600 and 1,700 students.

The Dr. Ramiro R. Casso Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen is also seeing extensive expansions with the construction of a $24 million, 90,000-square-foot facility. The building will add nursing and allied health training, lab space, a hospital simulation center, and a library. The improvements will support additional academic programs offered by STC, including radiology, MRI, vascular/doppler technology, and surgical technology.

“NAH is enabling STC to become one of the leading producers of healthcare professionals in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Jayson Valerio, Interim Dean of the Nursing & Allied Health Division at STC, in a news release.

This is a direct result of STC expanding its offerings and opportunities to students around the region, including the Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City.

“In Starr County, I found that one of the biggest barriers to education is the distance to the other campuses,” said Arturo Montiel, campus administrator at the Starr County Campus. “As a result in the past we haven’t been able to have a lot of programs. For example, students would have to travel to the Technology Campus because we have a welding program, but you can only take a couple of classes before you have to transfer. With the bond, this gives us the ability to have the facilities to house an entire program.”

The Starr County Campus is using $24 million of the bond to expand its student services building, add a thermal storage plant, and construct a new library and health and science center. These additions are particularly meaningful because students are so isolated from other STC campuses. Now, they can enroll in new programs and expect to attend classes in Starr County rather than commuting to Hidalgo County.

“That’s my biggest challenge — getting the word out that you no longer have to go to Pecan Campus,” Montiel said. “You can do everything right here.”