Feature Illustration (above): Conceptual rendering of the planned new Katy campus of the Houston Community College. Courtesy: HCC.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Houston (Harris County) — Houston Community College ended 2018 by proceeding with the closing on a 24-acre tract of vacant land that will be home to a new West Houston campus.
The purchase, although long anticipated, came only after a contentious debate and split vote on the HCC Board of Trustees over the cost and likely success of the new campus.
At the Dec. 5 regular meeting, the trustees authorized the execution of a short-term interim bank loan for $55 million and the purchase of the 24 acres located at 228 Colonial Parkway, near the intersection of Interstate 10 and Grand Parkway. The loan is intended to cover the cost of the land and the design and construction of a 140,000-square-foot building.
There is also an option to acquire an additional 30 acres.
The HCC project is part of a broader strategy that involves extensive cooperation with the University of Houston, which already has under construction a new branch campus next to the HCC site. The “co-location,” as it has been called, is within territory protected by the state that is in HCC’s service area, but it is outside the boundaries of the taxing district. This was problematic for a minority of the board, particularly since the city of Katy has refused to be part of the district.
HCC Board Trustees Dave Wilson (left) and Robert Glaser. Courtesy: HCC video archives.
Trustee Dave Wilson explained his nay vote prior to the vote on a loan from Region’s Bank, stating, “I’d love to build a campus for the good people of Katy, Texas, but I can’t do it on the back of my constituents who pay the freight. This proposal is fundamentally flawed. It is patently unfair to the taxpayers of HCC.
“There is a serious financial storm brewing at HCC . We have declining enrollment, we have runaway budget, we’ve hired two or three hundred new employees and next year we’re going to have a proposal for a massive tax increase at this institution to get us out of trouble.”
Trustee Pretta VanDible Stallworth abstained, reasoning that while she approved an expansion in Katy, she believed the district should take a more conservative, affordable approach.
Trustee Robert Glaser opposed the project on similar grounds and questioned the reliability of staff cost estimates. He noted that HCC’s last capital project cost $420 per square foot, but staff was estimating the West Campus at $300 a square foot, claiming the savings would come from reusing equipment from the existing Katy campus.
“That’s a $16.8 million variance,” Glaser said. “If we don’t make that $300/SF number, who’s going to make the difference? I find it a little overly aggressive, in the pro forma, to present a $300/SF building when our history doesn’t support that.”
The planned new Katy campus will be several miles west of the existing campus at Foxlake Drive.
The land transaction vote was five in favor, two against and two abstentions. The bank loan vote taken separately also had five of the nine in favor.
The district plans to repay the loan in part by selling the current Katy-Foxlake Campus at 1550 Foxlake Drive. The campus consists of a converted 108,000-square-foot office building that does not have the capacity to handle projected growth. HCC needs the capacity to expand from 4,000 students to 7,000 students. And by co-locating with UH, students would be able complete their two-year associate degrees directly across the street from a campus offering undergraduate degrees.
Even though Katy residents have not voted themselves into the district, HCC trustees were persuaded by the fact that the Katy region is the fastest growing sector in the district’s service area. A study commissioned by HCC in 2016 found “the proposed West Houston Campus location is geographically and demographically ideal to provide a growth opportunity for HCC to serve this community which is expected to continue growth for several decades.”
The project returns to the trustees for review and approval on the occasion of four milestones:
- Selection of the architectural firm
- The proposed building design and programming
- Selection of a construction method
- Selection of a construction firm
The project timeline suggests that schematic design work shall begin in March; construction document design begins in June; and the contractor selection and beginning of construction takes place in December 2019. The West Houston campus building is to be ready for occupation June 2021.