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Longview University Center to house charter campus

By Bridget Ortigo
July 14, 2014 at 11 p.m.

A charter school offered by the University of Texas at Tyler will soon have a new building on the Longview University Center campus.

Construction is under way and expected to be completed mid-August for the university's charter school, which serves third- through eighth-graders. The building is expected to be operational by Aug. 25, in time for the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

Though a former Longview higher education advisory committee member said she is concerned the university isn't fulfilling its purpose by offering a charter school, UT Tyler Interim Provost Ross Sherman said Monday the Innovation Academy is a means for the university to expand educational programs for all of East Texas.

"The university is working collaboratively with K-12 and higher education institutions in Gregg and surrounding counties to expand P-16 educational programs," Sherman said. "P-16" refers to the educational system of public education from pre-school through college completion.

The Innovation Academy was formerly housed in a university building that also included college-level nursing students. Its new building is being constructed on the western edge of the campus.

The 17,280-square-foot building for the Innovation Academy is being built by contractors Ramtech Building Systems Inc. of Mansfield and Nouveau Construction and Technology Services of Carrollton.

"The utilities construction and site work is being handled by Nouveau," Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management Chip Clark said. "The total program budget for the design and utilities is about $1.1 million."

Clark said the building itself, being constructed by Ramtech Building Systems Inc., is not included in the $1.1 million.

"The building is on a five-year lease with the option to purchase," he said.

University officials could not immediately provide the yearly lease cost for the building.

The university in Longview has come under fire in recent years for a lack of upper level degrees offered for continuing education and for housing the charter school in the building that some say was designated for upper-level courses.

The city of Longview deeded the land to the university system in 1997.

A 1997 resolution creating the center said UT-Tyler was being permitting to offer degree programs at the center not only through the University of Texas but also through other participating schools and universities. The Longview facility was to partner with Kilgore College for the first two years of curriculum and Stephen F. Austin State University was to be invited to participate to offer full degree programs.

Longview Mayor Jay Dean wrote a letter to University of Texas at Tyler President Rodney Mabry in September voicing concerns over the university center's original purpose to partner with Kilgore College, SFA and other higher education schools for degree programs.

While the university center has partnered with Kilgore College for nursing programs and criminal justice degrees, the center largely remains an extension of the Tyler university for online classes and nursing degree programs.

The charter school was added to the Longview University Center in 2012.

"I'm concerned that the center is not fulfilling its intended purpose," said Peggy Coghlan, who was part of a committee that established the Longview center and an advisory board designed to oversee it. "That property was solely supposed to be used for the university to offer upper-level education courses."

Coghlan cited a resolution adopted by the city of Longview in 1997 stating other universities and colleges "should be invited to participate as a significant partner institution in the university center, offering full degree programs."

"I am concerned that the city's resolution is not being adhered to within the dictates of the resolution," Coghlan wrote in an August letter to City Manager David Willard.

Dean said he feels the university is making an effort to meet those conditions of the resolution and the university is within its right to build on the property as it sees fit.

"My understanding is they (the Longview University Center) are currently working with Kilgore College and Panola College to offer secondary courses," Dean said "They also have just offered criminal justice courses."

Dean noted the university is moving the Innovation Academy out of the existing building, which will free up upper-level education classrooms.

"Legally and by legislative statute, the city is restricted on what we can tell the university they can or cannot do on the property," Dean said. "The University of Texas at Tyler is the legal land owner. Legally our hands are tied with the Innovation Academy."

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt, who served on the committee with Coghlan, agreed with the mayor.

"The land is the property of the UT system," Stoudt said. "There has to be a demand for college classes to make it work and I'm fairly certain they have talked to other universities and been working with them to provide higher education."

Stoudt said the charter school is part of that higher education plan.

"The Innovation Academy is a new concept they're putting on campuses to compliment the school system," he said. "They have them at the Palestine and Tyler campuses as well."



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